The Van Trump Report

Rural America at a Glance 2023 Edition: Population Growth Rebounds as Poverty Declines

The US rural population is growing again after a decade of decline, according to USDA’s 2023 edition of “Rural America at a Glance,” with growth of approximately a quarter percent from 2020 to 2022. This year’s report also shows America’s rural population is experiencing declines in, with -9.7% fewer nonmetro counties in 2021 experiencing persistent poverty compared with a decade earlier. The USDA’s Economic Research Service releases the Rural America at a Glance report annually, which summarizes the status of conditions and trends in rural areas. The full report is HERE.  Below are some of the highlights:
Migration Boosts Rural Population Growth: The 46 million U.S. residents living in nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) areas in July 2022 made up 13.8% of the U.S. population. The COVID-19-related renewal of nonmetro population growth first seen in 2020–21 (July through June) continued at roughly an equal rate during the same period in 2021-22 (+0.14% and +0.12% growth, respectively). This growth represents a large upward shift from a -0.09% population decline in 2019–20, which came at the end of a decade of overall nonmetro-population loss. The natural change (the number of births minus the number of deaths) in rural population numbers actually declined -0.33% in both 2020–21 and 2021–22, an acceleration from -0.09% in 2019-20. ERS notes that given decreasing fertility rates for the United States overall and the aging of the nonmetro population, a natural decrease is likely a permanent fixture for nonmetro areas. The overall increase in the rural population is entirely due to net migration. In 2020-21, metro populations declined -0.07% while rural areas experienced a +0.43% gain. The trend continued in 2021-22 with metro populations falling -0.06% while rural populations grew +0.35%.

Impact of Metropolitan Area Changes the Smallest Since 1950: Most demographic and economic studies of rural conditions and trends (including this report) refer to conditions in nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) counties, which lie outside metropolitan (metro) areas, as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Every 10 years, OMB identifies a new set of metro areas based on the most recent decennial census. Historically, this reclassification each decade has led to large nonmetro-population losses. In the latest decennial update announced by the OMB in July 2023, 72 nonmetro counties with 2,289,693 million people switched to metro status. At the same time, 52 metro counties with 2,127,332 residents switched to nonmetro status. The net loss for nonmetro areas due to reclassification (162,361 people) is by far the lowest for any decade since 1950 when metro areas were first delineated. The change marks a historic downturn in urbanization during 2010–20 caused by a number of factors, including a much lower overall population growth rate for the United States and lower levels of suburbanization through much of the decade.

Rural Unemployment Rates Reach Record Lows: The total number of rural residents employed had not yet recovered to prepandemic levels by early 2023. Following the rapid gains in late 2020, rural employment growth slowed to an annual rate of +1.4 percent in 2021 and +0.5 percent in 2022. As of the second quarter of 2023, rural employment stood at 20.2 million people, -1% below the prepandemic (fourth quarter, 2019) level of 20.4 million. Unemployment rates were slightly higher in rural areas (4.1%) than urban areas (3.6%) before the pandemic. While that pattern briefly reversed during the pandemic, the urban unemployment rate dropped below the rural rate once again in the second quarter of 2022. However, at 3.8% or less throughout 2022 and early 2023, rural unemployment rates remained at their lowest point since before 1990.

Clean Energy Jobs Are 1% of Rural Employment: In 2021, there were more than 243,000 clean energy jobs in rural America, representing more than 1% of total employment, based on Energy Department data, according to the report.  The rate of rural clean energy employment reached a high of 26 jobs per 1,000 total jobs in Vermont—with Hawaii, North Dakota, Iowa, and Nevada rounding out the top 5. Conversely, Arizona has the lowest rate of clean energy employment in rural counties, with less than 5 jobs per 1,000 total jobs—followed by Arkansas, New Mexico, Virginia, and Mississippi. Considering the number of jobs rather than the employment rate, Texas led all States with more than 15,000 clean energy jobs in nonmetropolitan counties.

Poverty Rates Continue to Decline: An analysis of annual county-level poverty rate estimates for 2007 through 2021 indicates that the majority (86%) of all rural counties experienced a downward trend in poverty over the 15-year period. The decrease in poverty rate was statistically significant (i.e., clearly declining) for 109 nonmetro counties. Poverty rates rose in 13% or 252 of all nonmetro counties, with a statistically significant increase in poverty rates for 26 of those counties. The downward trend in poverty rates for nonmetro counties resulted in a decrease in the number of persistent poverty counties as well. These counties represent areas where poverty conditions have persisted for 30 years or more.

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