Rural counties where farming makes up a major part of the local economy were more likely than the rest of rural America to lose population over the past decade, according to a Daily Yonder analysis of U.S. Census data.

Counties that depend on recreation, on the other hand, were more likely to gain population than rural America overall.

Only 21% of rural counties with farming-dependent economies gained population from 2010 to 2020, the analysis shows.

Nearly six out of every 10 rural counties with a recreation-based economy gained population over the last decade.

Nationwide, about a third of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties gained population in the last 10 years.

Only 84 of the 391 rural farm-dependent counties gained population from 2010 to 2020. Among recreation counties, 135 of 228 counties gained population.

Over the 10-year period, rural counties with farming economies lost 2.6% of their combined population. The combined population of recreation counties grew by 3.5% over the same period.

Nationally, the rural population fell by 0.6%, from 46,340,000 to 46,060,000 over the last decade.

The analysis is based on the latest decennial census data and an economic categorization system created by the USDA Economic Research Service. The ERS system evaluates economic activity in each U.S. county and codes them as dependent on farming, manufacturing, mining, state and federal government, and recreation. Counties that don’t meet the criteria for any of the economic types are categorized as nonspecialized.

Counties classified as manufacturing, mining, state and federal government, and nonspecialized were not very different from the overall pattern of slight rural population loss.

The farming category is based on a county’s level of farm earnings and farm employment. The recreation category is based on combination of employment and personal income from industries related to recreation (e.g., restaurants, accommodations, entertainment, etc.) and the percentage of housing intended for seasonal use.

To define rural counties, the analysis used nonmetropolitan counties as classified by the federal Office of Management and Budget. We used the 2013 OMB classifications to analyze both the 2010 and 2020 data.

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