Monday, June 13, 2016

Rural population loss slowed greatly in 2014-15; trend suggests it will start gaining again soon

After five years of population loss in rural and small-town America, the trend has slowed greatly and may be ending, John Cromartie reports for Amber Waves, the magazine of the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The population of non-metropolitan counties "declined by just 4,000 from July 2014 to July 2015 after four years of population losses averaging 33,000 yearly, according to the latest county population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau," Cromartie writes. "The 2014-15 improvement in nonmetro population change coincides with rural economic recovery and suggests that this first-ever period of overall population decline (from 2010 to 2015) may be ending."
Population is driven by two main factors, net migration and natural increase or decrease. Rural counties most recently began losing from migration in 2006, and "widespread job losses in rural manufacturing caused by the recent economic recession, increased global competition, and technological changes contributed to the downturn in net migration, especially in eastern parts of the United States," Cromartie writes. "This downturn appears to have bottomed out in 2012, and improving population trends since then coincide with a marked improvement in non-metro employment growth."

Rural population usually grows because births strongly outweigh deaths, but the Great Recession caused economic uncertainty that led to fewer births. "Areas that recently began experiencing natural decrease are found in the Northeast, South, and, especially, in and around the margins of Appalachia, expanding a large region of natural decrease extending from Pennsylvania through northern Alabama," Cromartie reports. "Population growth from natural change increased slightly since 2013, in line with a post-recession increase in births nationwide. If current trends continue, both net migration and natural increase will contribute to a recovery of population growth in rural and small-town America in the coming years."

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