Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New data on small, rural counties show they continued to lose people over the last decade

The majority of the country's most rural counties lost even more population over the last decade, says new data from the Census Bureau. Some of roughly 1,400 counties with fewer than 20,000 people, "particularly those in the Mountain West — saw population gains that may be the result of retirees striking out for areas that are both scenic and affordable," Dough Smith and Richard Fausset of the Los Angeles Times report. The data, which also showed a growing Latino presence in those counties, offer the first detailed portrait of heartland America in a decade, Smith and Fausset write.

"Such data had been hard to come by previously," the reporters write. "Concentrated from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountain region, the counties constitute half of the United States by area, but were too sparsely populated to provide meaningful statistics as the Census Bureau rolled out a new yearly national survey in the mid-2000s." The new data, from the American Community Survey, compensates for low number by averaging results over five years. "That makes some of the data difficult to interpret, particularly income figures, because the five-year period spans the pre-recession boom, the recession and the beginning of the recovery," Smith and Fausset write.

Population drops in rural America have been the trend for much of the 20th century, said Ken Johnson, a demographer with the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Population growth in rural America was the exception over the last decade, but Spencer County, Kentucky, which is just 45 minutes from downtown Louisville and home to a Corps of Engineers lake impounded 25 years ago, led the way with a 42 percent population growth. The Great Plains appear to be particularly hard hit by the rural population drop as fewer young people are sticking around to have children. "The only thing that might break them [Midwest rural counties] out of it," Johnson told the reporters, "is an influx of young Hispanics." (Read more)

No comments: