U.S. Census Data Shows Rural America Shrinking Over Decade For First Time

(RepublicanInformer.com)- For the first time in U.S. history, the population in the country’s rural areas dropped from over a 10-year period from one Census to the next one.

Over the past decade, the number of people living in rural areas of the country actually decreased. That’s according to a policy report published recently by Kenneth Johnson, who serves as a demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy.

In the last 10 years, the total number of people who live in rural areas decreased by 289,000, or 0.6%. While that’s a very small number since there are roughly 46 million Americans who live in what’s termed a rural area, it’s still significant because the number of people moving to rural areas has increased in recent years.

From 1990 through 2000, 3.4 million residents moved to rural areas. Between the years of 2000 and 2010, another 1.5 million people moved to rural areas. So, a drop of 289,000 residents from rural areas is a significant change of direction from the previous two 10-year periods.

In a recent interview, Johnson commented:

“The actual size of the loss isn’t a particularly big deal. The fact that it actually happened, that rural America as a whole lost population, reflects a significant change. The question is, is it just a short-term thing, or is it a longer-term thing?”

There are a number of reasons why this migration happened, Johnson said, and the factors have gone back years, stemming from the Great Recession from 2007 and 2008.

That recession resulted in lower birthrates around the country as well as overall less migration. It’s come to be called the “baby bust,” which resulted in women waiting longer to have children for the first time and having fewer children overall compared to earlier generations of women.

Migratory patterns in the U.S. have remained relatively the same for about the last 100 years. Younger people typically move out of rural areas and urban centers and flock to suburbs as they get older.

Less migration in recent years, though, has resulted in people staying in urban centers for longer periods of time. The general make-up of urban residents are younger people, who are the ones to have more children. This, then, results in a bigger population boom in the urban centers rather than people moving to rural communities.

The general population in rural areas is older, and they have fewer children. And, for the first time in a while, the number of people who have moved away from rural areas (510,000 in the last decade) outpaced the number of new births to people who have stayed (221,000).

As Johnson explained:

“The number of births continued to diminish throughout the decade. Most [rural areas] now have more people dying in them than being born. Partially, that’s because of the fertility slowdown because of the Great Recession and its aftermath, but partly, it’s because the population is older.”