Image: Rural Economy & Population


The number of people living in nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) counties stood at 46.2 million in 2014—nearly 15 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the Nation's land area. Nonmetro areas as a whole lost population between July 2013 and July 2014, continuing a 4-year trend. While individual counties have lost population over the years, this is the first period of overall population decline in nonmetro America. ERS tracks demographic change in nonmetro areas and conducts research to help explain the relationship between population change and the socioeconomic well-being of rural and small-town residents.

  • Estimated population loss in nonmetro areas between July 2013 and July 2014 was quite small (around 31,000 people) but slightly more than the previous year (July 2012-July 2013) when nonmetro areas lost about 28,500 people.
  • Population change is very uneven across rural and small-town America. Over 1,300 nonmetro counties have lost population since 2010, as a group declining by over 500,000 people. At the same time, 666 nonmetro counties gained population, together adding over 400,000 residents (see map).
  • Nonmetro population growth from net migration peaked in 2006, then declined precipitously and shifted geographically in response to rising unemployment, housing-market challenges, energy sector developments, and other factors. Suburban expansion and migration to scenic, retirement/recreation destinations have been primary drivers of rural demographic change for several decades, but for the time being at least, their influence has considerably weakened.
  • Population growth rates in nonmetro areas have been significantly lower than those in metro areas since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years. While annual rates of population change in nonmetro areas fell from 0.7 percent to below zero between 2006 and 2014, metro rates fell only slightly, from 1.0 percent to 0.9 percent.
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Last updated: Monday, June 15, 2015

For more information contact: John Cromartie

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