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Domestic migration patterns foster strong ties between many nonmetro and metro areas

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Human movements between places vary considerably across space, so their contribution to the spread of COVID-19 also varied spatially. For instance, some rural communities have long histories as recreation or tourist destinations and more established migration connections to larger cities. In examining county-to-county migration patterns, researchers organized nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) counties into four equal groups, or quartiles, based on the rate at which people moved to or from metropolitan (metro) counties. The counties in the lowest quartile (lightest blue on the map) have the weakest migration connections with metro regions, meaning few people move back and forth proportionately. Remote counties far from any metro region, such as in the central and northern Great Plains, fall in the lowest quartile. Those counties in the fourth quartile (darkest blue) have the strongest migration connectivity and are typically adjacent to metro centers, such as southern New Hampshire, along the Front Range in Colorado, and in parts of Texas adjacent to Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio. However, some very remote areas have high migration ties to metro counties, such as areas of Wyoming, Idaho, and North Dakota. These are places that have unique economic conditions that tie them to urban areas. Western North Dakota had a burgeoning energy sector from 2012 to 2016 (when these migration flows were measured), and there are established amenity destinations in the Colorado Rockies; Sun Valley, Idaho; Jackson, Wyoming; and along the Washington and Oregon coasts. Nonmetro counties with higher migration connectivity to metro areas were more likely to experience outbreaks of COVID-19 during the first few weeks and months of the pandemic compared with less-connected nonmetro counties. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report COVID-19 Working Paper: Migration, Local Mobility, and the Spread of COVID-19 in Rural America, published in November 2022.

Local work-related commuting in farming-dependent counties remained high during initial days of COVID-19 pandemic

Thursday, December 15, 2022

In the early weeks of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, when local and State authorities were issuing stay-at-home orders, employees in farming-dependent counties maintained a relatively high level of onsite work and commuting. Researchers at USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) and Middlebury College divided all rural (nonmetro) counties into four equal groups based on how much work-related local travel was reduced. The four groups were: greatest reduction, second-greatest, second-least, and least reduction. Those in the “least reduction” group had mobility levels similar to pre-pandemic levels. In mid-April 2020, 7 weeks after the virus first arrived in a rural county and a month after stay-at-home orders were issued, there were three times as many farming-dependent counties in the “least reduction” group as in the “greatest reduction” group. Counties dependent on government and recreation jobs showed the greatest mobility reductions during the early months of the pandemic. These differences in mobility reduction help explain differences in the initial spread of COVID-19 within counties. By the third week of April 2020, “least reduction” counties were experiencing infection rates nearly double those in counties with greater reductions in work-related mobility. This chart appears in the ERS report Migration, Local Mobility, and the Spread of COVID-19 in Rural America, published in November 2022.

Many American Indians and Alaska Natives are concentrated in high poverty rural areas

Friday, November 25, 2022

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2015-19, there were 469 nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) counties with a poverty rate of 20 percent or more, which USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) designates as high poverty. The high poverty classification in more than half of the counties (236) is characterized by a concentration of poverty within racial and ethnic minority groups, including Black or African American (153 counties), Hispanic (49 counties) and American Indian and Alaska Natives (34 counties). Many of the American Indian and Alaska Native high poverty counties are areas of historic tribal presence or were designated as reservation settlements in the 19th century. The average poverty rate for those 34 counties is 31.5 percent for the total population and 40.5 percent for the American Indian and Alaska Native population alone, a level considered to be extreme poverty. The average poverty rates for the other racial-ethnic high poverty county types are below 30 percent for the total population and below 40 percent for the Black or African American and Hispanic population groups. This chart uses information from the ERS Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America to update information on the Rural Poverty and Well-being topic page and the Amber Waves feature Anatomy of Nonmetro High-Poverty Areas: Common in Plight, Distinctive in Nature, published in February 2004.

Share of working-age population in nonmetro areas declined from 2010 to 2020

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

In nonmetro areas from 2010 to 2020, the working-age population (ages 18 to 64) declined by 4.9 percent, and the population under age 18 declined by 5.7 percent. At the same time, the population of those 65 years and older grew by 22 percent. In metro areas, the working-age population increased by 6 percent during the 2010s; however, this growth was overshadowed by the 37 percent growth in the 65 and older population. Nationwide, the overall U.S. population has aged as the baby boomer generation entered their 60s and 70s. Nonmetro areas, in addition to having an aging population, also face population decline. Between 2010 and 2020, U.S. Census data show the population in nonmetro counties declined by 0.6 percent, the first decade of overall nonmetro population decline in U.S. census history. Nonmetro population subsequently increased in the first year and a half of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from 2020 to 2021 which saw people move out of metro areas into rural places. However, population gains due to COVID-19 were not enough to offset a decade-long slide in the share of the population that is of working-age nor to reduce the share of the rural population that was 65 or older during this period. Overall, population decline and an increase in average age in rural areas will affect the makeup and availability of the rural labor force. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2022 edition, published on November 15, 2022.

Nearly half of U.S. States lost population in rural areas in 2010-20, according to U.S. census data

Monday, November 15, 2021

During the decade from 2010-20, 24 States lost population in nonmetropolitan, or rural areas, according to the 2020 U.S. census. Sixteen of those States lost population overall or showed slow population growth (less than 5 percent) during the period. Data from the 2020 census show the U.S. population grew 7.4 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the 9.7 percent growth in the previous decade. West Virginia, Mississippi, and Illinois lost population in the most recent decade, with the population declining the most in West Virginia at 3.2 percent. West Virginia also was the only State to lose population in metropolitan areas as well as in nonmetro areas. The highest-population growing State from 2010 to 2020 was Utah at 18.4 percent, and Idaho, Texas, North Dakota, and Nevada also showed population growth of 15 percent or more. This map uses data from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s State Fact Sheets data product, updated in November 2021.

Data show U.S. poverty rates in 2019 higher in rural areas than in urban for racial/ethnic groups

Monday, August 23, 2021

Across all races and ethnicities, U.S. poverty rates in 2019 were higher at 15.4 percent in nonmetro (rural) areas than in metro (urban) areas at 11.9 percent. Rural Black or African American residents had the highest incidence of poverty in 2019 at 30.7 percent, compared with 20.4 percent for that demographic group in urban areas. Rural American Indians or Alaska Natives had the second highest rate at 29.6 percent, compared with 19.4 percent in urban areas. The poverty rate for White residents was about half the rate for either Blacks or American Indians at 13.3 percent in rural areas and 9.7 percent in urban settings. Rural Hispanic residents of any race had the third highest poverty rate at 21.7 percent, compared with 16.9 percent in urban areas. Non-Hispanic White residents had the lowest poverty rates in both rural (12.7 percent) and urban (8.2 percent) areas in 2019. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-Being, updated June 2021.

Rural counties with high and persistent poverty in 2019 were mostly located across the South

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

A recent USDA, Economic Research Service study of U.S. poverty identified 310 counties—10 percent of all counties—with high and persistent levels of poverty in 2019. High and persistent poverty counties had poverty rates of 20 percent or more in 1980, 1990, 2000, and on average for 2007-2011 and 2015-2019. Of those 310 counties, 86 percent, or 267 counties, were rural (nonmetro). These rural counties were concentrated in historically poor areas of the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia, the Black Belt, and the southern border regions, as well as on Federal Indian reservations. More than 5 million rural residents, or about 12 percent of the U.S. rural population, lived in counties that had high and persistent poverty rates in 2019. Of those, 1.5 million individuals had incomes below the Federal poverty threshold, accounting for 20 percent of the total rural poor population. Rural residents who identify as Black or African American and American Indian or Alaska Native were particularly vulnerable. Nearly half the rural poor within these groups lived in high and persistent poverty counties in 2019. By comparison, 20 percent of rural poor Hispanics and 12 percent of rural non-Hispanic Whites lived in those counties. This chart appears in the August 2021 Amber Waves finding, Rural Poverty Has Distinct Regional and Racial Patterns.

Nonmetro areas faring better than metro areas in recovery from pandemic’s lowest employment levels

Friday, May 28, 2021

Early during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, U.S. employment fell at rates not seen since the Great Depression, with the greatest declines occurring in metro areas. Before the pandemic, employment growth in metro areas had averaged 1.4 percent per year for the 12 months prior to March 2020, more than twice the rate in nonmetro areas (0.6 percent per year). After March 2020, the situation reversed. In April 2020, metro employment was 15.0 percent below 12 months earlier, while nonmetro employment was 12.2 percent lower. Employment has since largely recovered in both metro and nonmetro areas but remained lower in February 2021 than levels 12 months earlier. The extent to which employment was still depressed in February 2021 is greater in metro areas: Metro employment was 5.7 percent lower in February 2021 than in February 2020, while nonmetro employment was 3.4 percent lower. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page, The COVID-19 Pandemic and Rural America, updated May 2021.

Fentanyl and other illicit opioids replaced prescription drugs as drivers of the opioid epidemic in 2011

Friday, April 2, 2021

Since the late 1990s, an opioid epidemic has afflicted the U.S. population, particularly those in the prime working ages of 25-54. As a result, the National age-adjusted mortality rate from drug overdoses rose from 6.1 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 21.7 per 100,000 in 2017, then dipped to 20.7 per 100,000 in 2018 and rose back to 21.6 in 2019. Among the prime working age population, the drug overdose mortality rate was 37.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. This rate was exceeded only by cancer (39.2 deaths per 100,000) in 2019 as a major cause of death in this population. ERS researchers, examining the opioid epidemic from 1999 to 2018, observed two distinct phases: a “prescription opioid phase” (1999-2011) and a succeeding “illicit opioid phase” (2011-2018), marked especially by the spread of fentanyl and its analogs. Updated data show the second phase has extended into 2019. Mortality data indicate that in the prescription opioid phase, drug overdose deaths were most prevalent in areas with high rates of physical disability, such as central Appalachia. Rural residents, middle-age men and women in their 40s and early 50s were most affected, as were Whites and American Indian/Alaskan Natives. Opioid prescriptions ceased driving the epidemic in 2011 as increased regulation and greater awareness of prescription addiction problems took hold. The illicit opioid phase that followed involved primarily heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Fentanyl and its analogs are often used to spike other addictive drugs, including prescription opioids, creating powerful combinations that make existing drug addictions more lethal. During the study period, this second phase was concentrated in the northeastern United States, particularly in areas of employment loss. This phase most often involved urban young adult males, ages 25 to 39. All the racial/ethnic groups studied—Hispanics, Blacks, American Indian/Alaskan Natives, and Whites—were affected. This chart updates data found in the Economic Research Service report The Opioid Epidemic: A Geography in Two Phases, released April 2021.

Rural death rates from COVID-19 surpassed urban death rates in early September 2020

Friday, March 19, 2021

During the initial COVID-19 surge between March and June 2020, large urban areas had the highest weekly death rates from the virus in the United States. Those numbers declined as medical professionals learned more about the virus, how to treat it, and how to prevent its spread. As the virus spread from major urban areas to rural areas, the second COVID-19 surge, from July to August 2020, brought more deaths to rural areas. The peak in deaths associated with this surge was smaller because testing was more widespread, the infected population was younger and less vulnerable, and treatments were more effective. However, in early September 2020, COVID-19 death rates in rural areas surpassed those in urban areas. This trend continued into a third, still ongoing, surge that spiked in rural areas during the holiday season and again shortly thereafter. Rural areas have shown higher death rates per 100,000 adults since September in part because they had higher rates of new infections than urban areas, but that is not the whole story. Rural COVID-19 deaths per 100 new infections 2 weeks prior (to account for the lag between infection and death) were 2.2 in the first 3 weeks of February—35 percent higher than the corresponding urban mortality rate of 1.6 deaths per 100 new infections 2 weeks earlier. The rural population appears to be more vulnerable to serious infection because of the older age of its population, higher rates of underlying medical conditions, lack of health insurance, and greater distance to an intensive care hospital. As of early February, death rates have started decreasing, possibly because of more widespread vaccinations among the most vulnerable populations. This chart updates data found in the February 2021 Amber Waves data feature, “Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from COVID-19.”

Nonmetro population change has remained near zero in recent years

Friday, October 30, 2020

The U.S. population in nonmetro (rural) counties stood at 46.1 million in July 2019, accounting for 14 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the Nation's land area. Nonmetro population growth has remained close to zero in recent years and was just 0.02 percent from July 2018 to July 2019, according to the latest county population estimates from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. As in previous periods of economic difficulties, such as in the mid-1980s and early 2000s, nonmetro America experienced a steep decline in population growth rates during the Great Recession. Unlike those previous periods of difficulty, the post-recession population recovery during the 2010s has been quite slow. Nonmetro population growth fell from a peak of 0.7 percent in 2006-07 to -0.14 percent in 2011-12. The nonmetro growth rate has been lower than in metropolitan (metro) counties since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years. This chart appears in the July 2020 Amber Waves data feature, “Modest Improvement in Nonmetro Population Change During the Decade Masks Larger Geographic Shifts.”

Racial and ethnic minorities made up about 22 percent of the rural population in 2018, compared to 43 percent in urban areas

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Rural America is less racially and ethnically diverse than the Nation’s urban areas. In 2018, Whites accounted for 78.2 percent of the rural population compared to 57.3 percent of urban areas. While Hispanics were the fastest-growing segment of the rural population, they accounted for only 8.6 percent of rural areas, but 19.8 percent of urban areas. Blacks made up 7.8 percent of the rural and 13.1 percent of the urban population. American Indians were the only minority group with a higher concentration in rural areas (2.1 percent) than urban (0.4 percent). Relatively few Asians and Pacific Islanders (included in the “Other” category) were rural residents, with these groups accounting for 0.9 and 0.05 percent of the rural population, respectively. The rest of the “Other” category reported multiple races and accounted for 2.2 percent of the rural population. This chart updates data found in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

More COVID-19 cases per capita in U.S. metro than nonmetro areas, but the share of cases in nonmetro areas is increasing

Friday, October 2, 2020

COVID-19 has spread to nearly every nation in the world, and to every State and nearly every county in the United States. The virus initially spread most rapidly to large metropolitan areas, and most confirmed cases are still in metro areas with populations of at least 1 million, according to the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) analysis of data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for System Science and Engineering. This is consistent with most of the U.S. population living in large metro areas. Even in per capita terms, the prevalence of COVID-19 cases has been greater in metro than in nonmetro areas since the initial appearance of the pandemic in the United States (the first confirmed case was reported on January 20, 2020). As of September 1, cumulative confirmed cases per 100,000 residents reached 1,877 in metro areas, compared with 1,437 cases in nonmetro areas. Although the prevalence of COVID-19 cases remains lower in nonmetro areas, the share of cases in nonmetro areas has grown since late March. The nonmetro share of all confirmed U.S. COVID-19 cases grew from 3.6 percent on April 1 to 11.1 percent on September 1. ERS regularly produces research on rural America, including demographic changes in rural communities and drivers of rural economic performance. This chart appears in the ERS topic page, The COVID-19 Pandemic and Rural America, updated September 2020.

Rural poverty rates dropped across all race/ethnicity groups between 2013 and 2018

Monday, August 17, 2020

In 2013, rural poverty reached a 30-year peak at 18.4 percent of the rural population. Between 2013 and 2018, the rural poverty rate fell 2.3 percentage points, a decline of about 1 million rural residents in poverty. Rural poverty rates declined for all race/ethnicity groups. The rural Black population showed the largest decline in poverty rates, from 37.3 percent in 2013 to 31.6 percent in 2018. Despite this decrease, Blacks continued to have the highest poverty rate among all rural race/ethnicity groups. While Blacks made up 7.6 percent of the rural population, they accounted for 14.9 percent of the rural poor in 2018. American Indians had the second-highest poverty rate (30.9 percent) among all rural race/ethnicity groups in 2018, 3.5 percentage points lower than in 2013. Hispanics had the lowest poverty rate among rural minority groups (23.8 percent) in 2018, an improvement of 4.4 percentage points from 2013. Whites have historically had a much lower rural poverty rate (14.0 percent in 2018), and their rate fell 1.9 percentage points from 2013 to 2018. However, the majority of the rural poor are White. Whites account for 84.8 percent of the overall rural population and 73.4 percent of the rural population in poverty in 2018. This chart updates data that appeared in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

As the rural veteran population declined, the share that were age 65 or older increased

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Veterans are a rapidly aging and increasingly diverse group, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the rural adult population in 2018. However, the number of veterans living in rural (nonmetro) areas has declined from 6.6 million in 1992 to 3.2 million in 2018. This decline was due largely to a drop in the size of the active military population (from about 3 million in 1992 to 1.3 million in 2018), natural decrease due to aging, and a tendency for younger veterans to settle in urban (metro) areas. Nearly 60 percent of rural veterans were ages 65 or older in 2018, and half of that group were ages 75 or older. By comparison, in 1992, the share of rural veterans age 65 or older was closer to 30 percent. This trend suggests that the number of rural veterans may continue to decline in the future. In addition, whether due to their military service or because of their age profile, over 30 percent of rural veterans reported having a disability in 2018, compared with about 15 percent of nonveterans. Older age and a higher incidence of disabilities may make rural veterans, as a group, increasingly vulnerable. This chart updates data found in the Economic Research Service report, Rural Veterans at a Glance, released November 2013.

H-2A positions increased fivefold between fiscal 2005 and 2019

Friday, May 22, 2020

The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program provides a legal means to bring foreign-born workers into the United States on a temporary basis. Workers employed on an H-2A visa are allowed to remain in the U.S. for up to 10 months at a time. Employers must demonstrate, and the U.S. Department of Labor must certify, that efforts to recruit U.S. workers were not successful. Employers must also pay a region-specific minimum wage, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate, which is set at the average wage for crop and livestock workers in that region in the prior year, as measured in USDA’s Farm Labor Survey. In addition, employers must pay for application and visa processing fees, provide housing for their H-2A workers, and pay for their domestic and international transportation. One of the clearest indicators of the scarcity of farm labor is the fact that the number of H-2A positions requested and approved has increased fivefold in the past 14 years—from just over 48,000 positions certified in fiscal 2005 to nearly 258,000 in fiscal 2019. The average duration of an H-2A certification in fiscal 2019 was 5.3 months, implying that the 258,000 positions certified represented about 114,000 full-year equivalents. The impact of this year’s shelter-in-place restrictions due to COVID-19 are not reflected in the data discussed. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page for Farm Labor, updated April 2020.

Rural population gains among Native Americans and Hispanics have offset population losses among Whites and Blacks

Friday, July 19, 2019

Rural America, with racial/ethnic minorities making up 22 percent of the population in 2016-17, has continued to diversify, but at a slower rate compared to 2012-13. The annual rate of population loss among rural Whites fell from -0.44 to -0.20 percent between 2012-13 and 2016-17. This change is likely due to changes in net migration, with fewer Whites moving out and more moving into rural areas in 2016-17 compared with 2012-13. The rural Black population continued to lose population in 2016-17 as well, but at a higher rate of loss than earlier (-0.20 versus -0.14 percent in 2012-13). Population gains among American Indians and Hispanics have offset population losses among Whites and Blacks. American Indians increased their rural population throughout the period but at diminishing rates, while the Hispanic rate of growth remained near 2 percent per year throughout the period. Although Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the rural population, they accounted for just 9 percent of the rural population in 2017 (compared to 80 percent for Whites). This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

Racial and ethnic minorities made up 22 percent of the rural population in 2017 compared to 42 percent in urban areas

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Rural America is less racially and ethnically diverse than the Nation’s urban areas. In 2017, Whites accounted for nearly 80 percent of the rural population (compared to 58 percent in urban areas). While Hispanics were the fastest-growing segment of the rural population, they account for only 9 percent of the rural population (20 percent in urban areas). Blacks made up 8 percent of the rural population (13 percent in urban areas). American Indians were the only minority group with a higher rural (2 percent) than urban share (0.5 percent). Relatively few Asians and Pacific Islanders (included in the “Other” category) were rural residents, with these groups accounting for 1 and 0.1 percent of the rural population, respectively. The rest of the “Other” category reported multiple races and accounted for 1.8 percent of the rural population. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

Improving rural net migration rates were most common in recreation and retirement destinations

Friday, March 8, 2019

People moving to rural areas tend to favor more densely settled areas with attractive scenic qualities, or those near large cities. Over 1,100 rural counties (58 percent) showed positive changes in net migration (inmigrants minus outmigrants) between 2012–13 and 2016–17. These counties are often located in recreation and retirement destinations attractive to newcomers—such as the Upper Great Lakes, the Pacific Northwest, the southern Appalachians, Florida, and the Hill Country of central Texas. Nearly 500 of these counties switched from net outmigration in 2012–13 to net inmigration in 2016–17. Fewer people are moving to sparsely settled, less scenic, and remote locations, which compounds economic development challenges in those areas. Despite increasing net migration generally, 42 percent of rural counties experienced a decrease in net migration between 2012–13 and 2016–17. These counties are in low-density, remote areas in the Nation’s Heartland, in Appalachia from eastern Kentucky to Maine, and in high-poverty areas in the Southeast and border areas of the Southwest. Some of these areas have suffered job losses related to lower oil and gas production. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

In 2016-17, the rural population increased for the first time this decade, due to lower population loss from net migration

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The decline in U.S. rural population, which began in 2010, has reversed for the first time this decade. In 2016-17, the rural population increased by 0.1 percent (adding 33,000 people). This recent upturn in rural population growth stems from increasing rates of net migration, which includes urban-to-rural migration as well as immigration from foreign countries. Rural net migration increased from −0.25 percent in 2011-12 to essentially zero in 2016-17. During the same period, population growth from natural change (births minus deaths) dropped from 0.12 percent to 0.08 percent. This continues a long-term downward trend in growth rates from natural change due to lower fertility rates, an aging population, and, more recently, increasing mortality rates for some age groups. While natural change has gradually trended downward over time, net migration rates tend to fluctuate in response to economic conditions. With growth from natural change projected to continue falling, future population growth in rural America will depend more on increasing net migration—which has coincided with declining rural unemployment, rising incomes, and declining poverty since 2013. These improved labor market conditions have allowed rural areas to retain more residents and attract more newcomers. The total rural population has remained close to 46.1 million since 2013. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.