Rural America in the 2000s: Population

Rural counties gained only 2.9% in population in the 2000s, compared to a national average of 9.1%. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

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What’s happened to rural America during the last decade?

Over the next few weeks we’ll try to answer this question as we look at changes in population, ethnicity, age groups and education.

We’ll start with population. The nation’s total population increased 9.1% between 2000 and 2009, a total of 25.5 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Population increases in rural counties lagged, however. The population of the nation’s 2,038 rural counties increased by just 2.9% in the decade.

Population in exurban counties had the highest percentage increase in the 2000s, up 13.1%. Urban counties increased 10.1%, just above the national average. (See chart on the next page.)

And as you can see from the map above, population change in rural America during this decade has varied by region. (To see larger versions of all maps, just click on the map.)

The rural Midwest largely lost population during the decade. These predominantly agricultural counties may be losing people because agriculture is increasingly mechanized — and other jobs are not there to attract or retain residents.

Meanwhile, however, almost every rural county in Washington State gained population. In fact, the entire Mountain West gained residents in the 2000s. [img:PopGrowth00-09528.jpg]

By the end of the decade, the United States had grown less rural. In 2000, 17.3% of the nation’s population lived in rural counties, decreasing to 16.4% just nine years later.

Meanwhile, the country grew increasingly urban. By 2009, three out of every four Americans lived in an urban county.

Whites continue to be a majority in urban, rural and exurban counties — but their share of the population decreased across the board between 2000 and 2009.

The largest decrease in white population took place in urban counties, but both exurban and rural counties had declines in the proportion of their white populations, too.[img:White00-09528.jpg]

Where are whites going? There is surely movement among counties, but overall white Americans are simply not keeping up with either immigrant groups or faster reproducing populations. But these relative declines in white populations are weaker in rural counties than in the cities.

Here is a map showing the gain or loss of white population in every rural county.[img:ShareWhites528.jpg]

Blacks (non-Hispanic) gained shares of population, particularly in exurban counties. The smallest increase in black population in the 2000s took place in rural counties. See chart below:[img:Black00-09528.jpg]

You can see in the map below, however, that large portions of the southeast U.S. (including East Texas) saw decreases in the proportion of black residents, perhaps because these regions had a high percentage of black residents to begin with. The proportion of black population in these counties is still high compared to the rest of the nation.

Blacks living in rural areas of the southeast could also be moving to the cities within the same region. The map below shows the change in the proportion of blacks in rural counties from 2000 to 2009.[img:ShareBlacks528.jpg]

Hispanics gained in rural, urban and exurban counties during the 2000s, but more so in urban counties than in rural. As you can see in the chart below, almost a fifth of the urban population is now Hispanic.[img:Hispanic00-09528.jpg]

Hispanics increased their share of the population in almost every rural county. 

It’s interesting that many of counties where the proportion of whites increased — mostly counties in New Mexico and Texas — were also the counties where the pecentagres of resident Hispanics decreased. See the map below:[img:ShareHispanics528.jpg]

Finally, here are the 50 rural counties that had the largest increases in total population between 2000 and 2009.[img:popgainers.png]

And here are the 50 rural counties that had the largest declines in population during the 2000s.[img:Popdecliners.png]

Roberto Gallardo is research associate at the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University.



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