There’s Something to that ‘People Are Moving Out To The Country’ Thing. At Least in Some Places.

Those of us in rural demographic data analysis and policy circles had an exciting week, as the most recent round of annual population change statistics was released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Among the findings, it turns out that for the first time in more than a decade rural counties saw a small increase in population.

According to Daily Yonder data and reporting, “Rural counties added a net of about 117,000 residents from 2020 to 2021. The gain is slight on a percentage basis – less than half a percent – but it’s the biggest annual growth in more than a decade.” Yonder reporting includes this handy county-by-county clickable map where you can compare deaths, births, domestic migration and international migration in every county in the nation.

In general, rural counties in the Great Plains, Southern Black Belt, Mississippi Delta, and Central and Northern Appalachian regions tended to lose populations. The growth areas in rural America include New England, areas along the Great Lakes, Southern Appalachia, the Ozarks, Central Texas and the broader rural West.

Pew’s Stateline reporting project also had an interesting analysis of the population change trends, finding that most migration occurred into rural and suburban areas from nearby denser areas. Though “(s)ome areas of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas swelled with out-of-state movers who left shutdown coastal cities in search of roomier, cheaper Sun Belt homes.” That’s what I did, moving from the Tacoma, WA, exurbs to the officially “rural” mountains of Western North Carolina.

To me, the most interesting trend in population change is that people are indeed moving out of core big city counties, places like New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Houston. But the vast, vast majority of that out-migration is going to the ten fastest growing counties in the country, per New York Times analysis. Those boom counties include parts of suburban Texas, Arizona and Florida.

Population change information in rural communities is a mixed bag, of course. Death rates are very high, for one, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And small percentage changes don’t amount to much when it comes to longer term trends, such as declining populations in the Great Plains farming belt.

I do find it interesting to know where we stand by the numbers, and it’s useful to have a data-driven answer when there’s a rumor going around like “so many people are moving out here that locals can’t afford to find a house any more.” Seems like it’s true in some places, at least.

Rural Reading List

This week’s rural reading selections come highly recommended (by me). Topics include more federal rural policy, data on rural hospitals, a deep-dive on a false climate solution being touted by industrial livestock and some great reporting on the calls for expanding liquified natural gas export. Enjoy:

Bipartisan Bill to Create a Permanent Office for Rural Prosperity at the White House

The Daily Yonder’s Kristi Eaton reports on a new federal proposal to create an Office for Rural Prosperity. Props to rural groups like and others for helping to get this bill through the legislative drafting process.

Study: Hospitals in Metro-Adjacent Rural Counties Are More Likely to Close

Liz Carey, the Yonder’s primary rural health care correspondent, on a new report showing both the geographic and the racial and ethnic trends in rural hospital closures.

‘This Plan Is a Lie’: Biogas on Hog Farms Could Do more Harm than Good

Our friends at Southerly, in conjunction with Scalawag, have an investigative report on corporate hog farms in Eastern North Carolina trying to greenwash their image with “renewable biogas” from manure.

With Biden in Europe Promising to Expedite U.S. LNG Exports, Environmentalists on the Gulf Coast Say, Not So Fast

This in-depth report explores how more liquified natural gas production, and terminals to create the shippable form, would have a big impact on many communities (including rural places) while significantly increasing greenhouse gas pollution.

One More Thing: The Federal Budget Debate Is Already Back in the News

In what can be described as deja vu from just a few short weeks ago, President Biden and Congress are once again talking about the federal budget. That’s because while Congress kicked last year’s budget-negotiation-can down the road until early March, we’re just now getting started with “BUDGET-MANIA: The 2022 Edition.”

That means rural America once again has an opportunity to see some needed funding increases for things like high speed internet access, clean energy, water and wastewater systems, etc. Or, there could be a lot of talk and supposed negotiations and debate that ends up with a very standard spending package. Or, a few Congress people could throw a fit and shut the government down for a few weeks. You know the drill by now.

Regardless, you can read my analysis of the updated Biden budget proposal in today’s Daily Yonder. And if you want a “just the facts, ma’am,” version of the situation: Biden is proposing a 9% funding increase for USDA, with $31.1 billion in new spending for rural priorities, including economic development, high speed internet, housing, conservation, energy, and climate mitigation programs. There are more details in the full story.

We’ll keep you informed of the drama and the droll of federal budgeting here at Keep It Rural over the next six months. Thanks for following along.

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