Nonmetro Counties Gain Pop. For 2nd Straight Year

Rural America’s population grew by 0.1 percent from 20017 to 2018. The growth was small and clustered near metropolitan areas. But it reverses the trend of population loss that occurred from 2011 to 2016.

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The size of the nonmetropolitan population crept up for the second year in a row in 2018, adding about 37,000 residents to reach 46.1 million.

That’s a gain of about 0.1 percent, according to a report from demographer Kenneth M. Johnson at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy.  The rate of growth is roughly the same as the growth rate from 2016 to 2017, when nonmetropolitan counties added 33,000 residents.

The overall U.S. population grew by about 0.6 percent over the last year.

While the gains for nonmetropolitan America were scant, they continue to reverse the historic drop in nonmetropolitan population that occurred from 2011-16.

The map shows which counties gained or lost population from 2017 to 2018. County-level data is available in the interactive map below. Or see the map in a new, full-sized window.

About half of America’s 2,000 or so nonmetropolitan counties gained population, while about three quarters of metropolitan counties did.

Rural America’s net growth came from rural counties that are adjacent to metropolitan areas, Johnson said in his report. Those counties gained 46,000 residents, while nonmetro counties that don’t touch a metro area lost 9,000 residents.

Johnson said nonmetro counties grew from a combination of migration (more people moving into a county than leaving it) and natural increase (more births than deaths). The rate of natural increase is dwindling, Johnson said.

Growth rates in nonmetropolitan American varied by region. “The fastest growing counties have recreational and scenic amenities that attract migrants including retirees from elsewhere in the United States,” according to the report. In contrast, farm counties had more people leave than move into the counties.

The Census Bureau, which released the 2018 population estimates Wednesday (April 18, 2019), noted that the South and West tended to have the fastest numerical growth in counties.

How this story defines rural: This story uses the Office of Management and Budget metropolitan statistical area system to define rural. Rural counties are defined as those that are not in a metropolitan statistical area or MSA. In this story, rural is synonymous with nonmetropolitan. There are numerous ways to define rural. You can learn more (much more!) from the USDA Economic Research Research and the U.S. Census

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