Rural America lost population during the last decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, which have been made public in advance of the full count that should be released later this year.
There were 238,000 fewer people living in non-metropolitan counties in 2020 than in 2010, the Census Bureau estimates. That amounts to a half of a percent decline in the total number of people living in rural counties (46.2 million people in 2020).
Rural, or nonmetropolitan, counties lost population for seven out of the last 10 years.
The nation’s medium-sized and large cities showed the largest gains in population in the decade. The core counties of these metropolitan areas of 250,000 or more residents grew by 7.8%, or 10.3 million people.
Suburban counties in these larger metro areas gained 9%, or 9.3 million people. Smaller cities (under 250,000) gained 1.4 million, or 5%. Rural counties lost population.
You can see in the graph how the suburbs have become the fastest growing parts of the country in the last decade. And you can see that rural America is slowly leaking people.
The graph also shows a slowing of the population increases in central cities over the last few years of the decade. Brookings demographer William Frey has written about this phenomenon in detail, finding that the central areas of America’s largest cities showed a significant slowing in population, particularly with the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020.
Frey notes that the rapid population growth in central cities started to slow in mid-decade. Population growth in central areas of cities of a million or more had dropped from 1.2% a year at the beginning of the decade to only 0.2% by 2020.
Small metro areas, those under 250,000 people, plugged along during this time, ending the decade with 1.4 million more people than in 2010. That was a gain of 5% over 10 years.
The map below shows gains and losses in county populations over the last decade, according to Census Bureau estimates.
You can see that population gains and losses varied significantly from place to place. Several older metro areas (downtown Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis) lost population while Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, and Austin all boomed.
In rural America, Gallatin County, Montana, saw its population grow by more than 30%, or 27,000 people, during the decade, according to the Census estimates. McDowell County, in West Virginia’s coalfields, lost 5,000 people, or 23% of its population.
Click on individual counties to see how the population changed over the decade.