Friday, May 24, 2013

Population Change along the Rural-Urban Continuum

The nation's urban areas are growing, and rural areas are losing people. This is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the post-Great Recession era. An analysis of county population change along what is called the Rural-Urban Continuum shows the draw of cities and the abandonment of rural outposts.

The Rural-Urban Continuum is the federal government's way of classifying counties by their degree of urbanity. The continuum is a scale ranging from 1 (the most urban counties, in metropolitan areas of 1 million or more) to 9 (the most rural counties, lacking any settlements of 2,500 or more people and not adjacent to a metropolitan area). If you sort the nation's 3,143 counties by their rank on the continuum, then measure population change between 2010 and 2012 for each rank, this is the result...

County population change 2010-2012 by Rural-Urban Continuum Rank
1: 2.2%
2: 1.7%
3: 1.2%
4: 0.2%
5: 0.8%
6: -0.4%
7: -0.2%
8: -0.9%
9: -0.5%

The most urban counties (a 1 on the scale) grew faster than any other type of county between 2010 and 2012. The most rural counties (8 and 9 on the scale) experienced the biggest declines. This is an interesting twist in the age of the Internet, when location is supposed to be increasingly irrelevant.

Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, Rural-Urban Continuum Codes and Census Bureau, American Factfinder, County Population Estimates

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