Rural Areas Lose Residents in Record Numbers

National migration to urban areas will continue, further eroding small towns.

It's not like we didn't already suspect it, but now it's official: Only 16 percent of the nation's population lives in a rural area -- the lowest on record, according to the Associated Press. The previous low of 20 percent was reached in 2000. The rural population has continued to drop over the years and is expected to fall even further as the U.S. population increases from 309 million to 400 million by mid-century and more people set up roots in cities and suburbs, bypassing rural areas, demographers say.

Rural areas in the Great Plains and Appalachia, as well as areas of Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Texas, could see significant population declines in the coming years as many young adults flock to the cities or suburbs.

"Some of the most isolated rural areas face a major uphill battle, with a broad area of the country emptying out," Mark Mather, associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau, told the Associated Press. "Many rural areas can't attract workers because there aren't any jobs, and businesses won't relocate there because there aren't enough qualified workers. So they are caught in a downward spiral."

Meanwhile, metro areas are expanding, posting double-digit percentage population gains in the last several decades, with the biggest gains in suburbs or small- to medium-sized cities. The 10 fastest-growing places were small cities that were being incorporated into the suburbs of expanding metro areas (with the majority falling in California, Arizona, and Texas), the Associated Press reports.

Source: "Decline of Small-Town America: Share of Rural Population Hits New Low as Cities, Suburbs Boom," Associated Press (July 28, 2011)