Tracking Rural’s Population Gains

The rural U.S. gained population between 2010 and 2011, but not much. And most of the nation's rural counties lost people during this time, largely through outmigration.

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Rural America’s population increased slightly from July 2010 to July of 2011 — but most rural counties lost population according to the most recent data released by the Census Bureau.

The country’s population increased by 2.26 million in the year, but more than 92 percent of that increase could be found in urban counties. Less than 2 percent of the nation’s population increase was in rural counties (37,406), according to the Census, and just under 6 percent was in exurban counties (131,446).

In this story, rural counties are nonmetropolitan according to the Census. Metropolitan counties are urban, and exurban counties are in metro areas but have about half their populations living in rural settings.

In 2011, 74.6 percent of Americans lived in urban counties (230 million people); 16.4 percent lived in rural counties (51 million); and 9 percent lived in exurban counties (28 million).

In 1980, 20 percent of the nation’s population lived in a rural county. In 1980, 45.6 million people lived in rural America. For full details, go here

The map above shows the population change in rural counties in the continental U.S. from July 2010 to July 2011. Red counties lost population; blue counties gained population. To see a larger version of the map, click on it. Or click here.

Of the 2,026 rural counties, 886 (or 43.7 percent) either maintained or gained population during this 12-month period. More than 56 percent of all rural counties lost population during this year.

You can see some patterns in the map. The Southeast, for example, lost population, as did the Northeast and parts of the West. The Great Plains states did much better in holding onto their people, as did parts of the Mountain West.

Rural America generally struggled to hang on to its population, however. There were 26,000 more births than deaths in rural counties — and rural counties accounted for a proportionate share of the nation’s births. (More than 15 percent of the births in that year were in rural counties, which had just over 16 percent of the nation’s population.)

But rural counties had 21.3 percent of the nation’s deaths, a disproportionately large share.

Rural counties also lost more than 91,000 people in domestic migration during those 12 months. This loss was partially offset by international migration, which boosted the rural population by just under 43,000 people.

Below are the 50 rural counties that gained the most population in the last year. North Carolina had seven counties among the top 50 counties, but the gains could be found across the country. Twenty-seven states had rural counties among those with the most population gains.

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And here are the 50 rural counties with the largest population losses in the last year. Again, you’ll see that the losing counties are scattered around the country — 21 states have counties on this list.

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