A quarter of the people living in rural America make their homes in counties where the majority of the population is made up of racial/ethnic minorities — Hispanic, African American or Native American. And more than half of the rural and exurban population in the United States lives in counties with minority populations that will likely become majorities by mid-century, according to an analysis of recent U.S. Census reports.

Rural America continues to grow more diverse as minorities, particularly Hispanics, have moved out of large urban areas and into smaller cities and rural communities. From July 2006, to July 2007, for example, St. Joseph, Missouri, an hour north of Kansas City, had a 21 percent increase in its Hispanic population. That was the largest increase in the country.

The map above shows the shifting racial composition of rural America. The dark blue counties are rural and exurban counties that had minorities as a majority population in 2000. The lighter blue counties are those where minorities became a majority between 2000 and 2007. And the lightest blue counties are those rural and exurban communities that will soon tip to become minority-majority.

These counties are listed individually by region and by state in separate files. (There are no rural or exurban counties in the northeast that are minority-majority.) Find your state and county here:




White population is dropping in about half of all U.S. counties, and whites are projected to fall below 50 percent of the total U.S. population by 2050.

Those changes are not taking place evenly across rural America, however. Most of the counties that have recently switched to minority-majority are in the South or Southwest. Much of the Midwest is unchanged. There are new minority-majority counties in the upper Great Plains.

“We continue to see growth and spreading of new minorities across the country,” William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, told the Wall Street Journal. “At the same time, the white population is getting older and becoming more constrained.”

In most cases, minorities become a majority because of increases in minority population. In Barbour County, Alabama, however, the African American population became the majority because of a 9 percent decline in white population. (Utah, for example, will retain its white majority for some time because of high fertility rates among white women.)

Two rural counties had the largest white majorities: Magoffin County, Kentucky, and Mitchell County, Iowa. In both counties, 99 percent of the populations were non-Hispanic whites, according to Census estimates from 2007.

The changing populations in rural America tell hundreds of different stories. The Iowa Independent reports of the new immigrants who have come to Postville, Iowa, to work at Agriprocessors, a meat-packing firm raided recently by federal officials.

The Des Moines Register reported last weekend that minorities continue to lag in the Iowa economy. In a recent study, an Iowa State University economist found that the state’s minorities contribute $7 billion to Iowa’s $121.4 billion economy — more than either the construction industry or farming.

Minority-majority groups differ depending the region of the country, as the map below shows. Hispanics are the majority group in the Southwest. African Americans continue to be the majority group in the South and along the Mississippi Delta. Blue counties are those in which two minority groups form a majority. (For example, Native Americans and Hispanics.) Red counties have three minority groups forming a majority.

The yellow counties on the map below show the rural and exurban counties that will soon tip to be minority-majority.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.