How Rural Are the States?
Nearly three out of ten Americans live in a rural area or a very small city, according to the latest figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
That’s the national average — 28.8 percent of Americans can be found either in an unincorporated area or in a city of between 2,500 and 50,000 residents.
But the national average is dominated by large populations in a handful of very large metropolitan areas in Texas, California, New York, Florida and Illinois. Most states, like the children in Lake Woebegone, are well above average when it comes to the size of their rural populations.
Seven out of ten states (34 of 50) have more than 28.8 percent of their people living in rural settings — either in small cities or in unincorporated areas. Fifteen states have more than half their populations living in rural areas or in towns under 50,000 population.
The most rural state is Vermont, with 82.6 percent of its population living in either rural areas or small cities.
The map above shows the lower 48 states based on the percentage of their rural population. The states with some shade of green have rural populations higher than the national average of 28.8 percent.
(Alaska has 55.5 percent of its population living in rural areas or small towns; Hawaii is right at the national average, with 28.5 percent of its population living in rural areas or small towns. See the next page for a full list of all states.)
The 16 states in tan or red have rural populations below the national average.
(To see the full Census data and its definitions, go here.)
The Census Bureau reports that the size of the rural population in the U.S. has been growing, but not at the same pace as have fully urbanized regions. People living in rural (i.e., unincorporated) areas totaled 59,492,276 in 2010, up just over 400,000 from 2000.
This rural population equaled 9.5 percent of the population in 2010, down from 10.7 percent in 2000.
Here are the rural, urban and small city populations for all 50 states and Washington, D.C. On the far right is each state’s ranking in terms of total percentage of rural and small city population.
Below is a chart showing what the Census calls “urbanized areas” — that is, metropolitan areas. They are in purple.
The green dots are “urban clusters,” or cities between 2,500 and 50,000 people. In our analysis, we combine the “urbanized clusters” with those who live in unincorporated areas to come up with the total “rural” population.
Finally, this map shows the percent of people in each county who live in an “urbanized area,” that is cities of more than 50,000 people. This group includes 81 percent of the total population, but, as you can see, a far smaller percentage of the land area.