e percentage of the U.S. population born in foreign countries isn’t as great in rural areas as it in metro America. But the foreign born population has been on the increase in non metro areas, especially since 1990.

The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has followed this trend and has published a background report on “Immigration and the Rural Workforce.” Below are some key excerpts. You may find the entire report here.


The foreign born population of the United States has increased rapidly since 1970, primarily due to immigration from Latin America and Asia. By 2010, about 40 million people of foreign birth lived in the United States, accounting for 13 percent of the population.

A message from the Rural Assembly

During 2007 11, an average of 2.1 million foreign born persons lived either in nonmetro counties or in metro counties whose economies are heavily dependent on agriculture. Although the foreign born in such counties accounted for a smaller percentage of the total population (4.1 percent) than in the nation as a whole, some of these counties have large shares of foreign born people. Counties where this share was one quarter or more are indicated in the map below in dark blue; examples include Aleutian Islands East Borough, Alaska (63 percent); Miami Dade County, Florida (51 percent); Garza County, Texas (38 percent); Santa Cruz County, Arizona (33 percent); Imperial County, California (32 percent); Clark County, Idaho (31 percent); Seward County, Kansas (31 percent); Echols County, Georgia (26 percent); and Franklin County, Washington (26 percent).

Hispanic Populations in Rural Areas

Slightly more than half of the foreign born in the United States were born in Latin America and the Caribbean, and roughly half of these were born in Mexico. In rural areas in particular, much of the increase in the foreign born population has been driven by inflows of Hispanic immigrants. (The U.S. Census Bureau uses the term Hispanic to refer to people “of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”) 

Between 1980 and 2010, the Hispanic population in the United States (including both foreign and U.S. born) increased from 14.6 million to 50.5 million, an increase of 246 percent, compared to 22 percent for the non Hispanic population. In the 1980s, growth of the Hispanic population was concentrated in metro areas. Since 1990, however, the growth in the Hispanic population has been especially rapid in nonmetro communities, particularly in the Southeast and Midwest, many of which had not previously had large numbers of Spanish speaking residents.

Hispanics played a major role in the restructuring of the U.S. meat processing industry. During the 1980s and 1990s, this industry switched to lower skilled labor and relocated plants to rural areas. Hispanics moved into the meat processing workforce and helped to meet the sector’s demand for lower skilled, low wage workers. This inflow of Hispanic labor transformed many rural communities, mitigating the decline of the population and stimulating local econo

A message from the Rural Assembly