|County population change, 2016 to 2017. (Stateline map; click the image to enlarge it or view the interactive version here.)|
"Rural areas, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as counties outside cities and their suburbs, gained population between 2016 and 2017 for the first time since 2010. They grew by about 33,000 residents nationwide, after losing more than 15,000 residents the year before," Tim Henderson reports for Stateline.
Heavily agricultural areas are growing; they tend to have fewer jobs available, but may attract people looking for a cheaper place to live or retire. One exception: the Mississippi Delta, which continued to lose population. So did the Central Appalachian coalfield, hurt badly by the industry's swoon. Most counties in Wyoming, the nation's top coal-producing state, lost population.
Rural areas with manufacturing jobs are growing, mainly in counties with a town of at least 10,000 people, according to senior demographer Kenneth Johnson of the University of New Hampshire's Carsey School of Public Policy, who published a paper analyzing the census data. Counties with towns from 10,000 to 50,000 are classified as "micropolitan."
"This seems to be the beginning of a return to population dispersal after a decade or so of clustering into cities and the biggest metropolitan areas," Brookings Institution demographer William Frey told Henderson. "Steady improvement in the economy and recovering housing markets may be prompting employers and job seekers to look again at areas that were growing before the Great Recession — suburbs, exurbs and small towns."