Monday, November 20, 2017

Rural population decline tied to opioid deaths, out-migration and some areas' reclassification as metro

USDA map; click on the image to enlarge it.
The population of rural America is in decline, partially because of opioid overdose deaths, according to the latest edition of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual digest, Rural America at a Glance. The report, which examines employment, population and poverty trends in rural counties, says that "since the end of the Great Recession around 2010, population declines have become widespread throughout rural America, even in the Eastern United States, where the rural population had been relatively stable for several decades," Peter Hancock reports for the Lawrence World-Journal in Topeka.

Rural mortality increased for adults between the ages of 20 and 54, not just because of opioid-related deaths, but because of increasing deaths from heart disease, cancer, and other natural causes. USDA geographer John Cromartie said during a webinar Friday afternoon that if these trends continue, not only will the overall rural population decrease, but so will the number of working people, which will increase the number of people depending on safety-net programs such as Medicaid and Social Security.

Another reason for the population decline is that rural residents are increasingly moving to urban areas. Also, fast-growing areas that once counted for rural growth have gotten big enough to be classified as metropolitan areas. The only areas that have seen population growth are in the Western U.S., partly because of the oil and gas boom and jobs that hinge on tourism and recreation.

The employment rate and median income in rural America habve increased modestly since 2011, helped by increasingly diverse sources of employment such as manufacturing, services and trade. Traditional rural sources of employment like agriculture and mining account for only 5 percent of jobs in rural areas. The employment rate still hasn't returned to pre-recession levels, though, and is still well below the urban growth rate. Broadband and other infrastructure investments would likely help employment in rural areas.

Poverty rates also remain higher in rural areas, especially in the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia, and the Rio Grande Valley.

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