Thursday, April 17, 2014

Double Whammy Rural Counties Lose Population Two Ways

Population Losses in Rural America

The counties that lost population because people left between 2000 and 2006 are in tan. The counties that lost population because more people died than were born between 2000 and 2006 are in purple. Those that lost population for both reasons are colored dark brown.
Chart: Calvin Beale/Kathleen Kassel/ERS

There are two ways for a county to grow its population. More people can move in. Or, there can be more births than deaths. During the 1990s, rural counties gained from both migration and from natural increases in population. This century, those increases slacked — and for a large swath of rural America, there were double-dipper declines in both natural increase and migration.

The map above shows both kinds of losses in rural counties — those that had more people moving out than moving in and those that had more people dying than being born. The dark counties are those hit with a double whammy, losing both through migration and through natural decreases. There are nearly 500 of these counties suffering from this unusual double loss. You can see the Great Plains counties and Appalachia. And, wow, look at western Pennsylvania! The great U.S. Department of Agriculture demographer Calvin Beale, who devised this map, notes that this condition, "which did not did not arise overnight, poses difficult development challenges.�?


On the map

Look at the southern border of Virginia. In the center is a large vertical purple area. To its left is a small dark brown area in the shape of Pittsylvania county, where Danville is located. How about that! Inferences from the observed are backed up by statistics.

the map

Bill Bishop The map is fascinating. The little section around Danville is a story. The implosion of northwest Pennsylvania is, what?, the decline of old line manufacturing? What's going on along the northern border of Kansas and the southern border of Nebraska? It would be great if people from some of these regions would send us some observations. Every place has a story. It would be great to hear some.

But they're not really independent, are they?

I'm not a demographer, but it seems to me that unless something drastic has happened to individual fertility in those purple counties, the "natural" decrease in population has to be a result of the fertile generation of adults already having moved away. It would take some time, after the start of such a migration, for deaths to overtake births. So are these really different effects? I think it's the same disturbing trend - productive adults moving away from perceived lack of opportunity - seen in slightly different aspects as a function of time.

The Tragedy Behind the Map

Anyone who has seen the abandoned and decaying farmsteads and seen the communities with closed schools, businesses, and churches as I have, knows the great tragedy behind what this map reveals. One of our pastors ( Village Missions, ), seeks to keep country churches alive) has helped promote bird watching, specifically the Prairie Chicken, as a way to bring revenue to a depressed area. Other creative means must be found to rebuild the economic base in these rural areas. People will return if they have a way to earn a living. A caveat: I have always felt that dividing a county into metro or non-metro is too broad. For a discussion on rural definitions see “What is Rural� ( ) by the U.S.D.A. Also see the information on rural definitions ( ) at the Economic Research Service.