Friday, July 29, 2011

Rural America disappearing?

That was the message from the Associated Press in this story yesterday. Here's the lede:

Rural America now accounts for just 16 percent of the nation's population, the lowest ever.

The latest 2010 census numbers hint at an emerging America where, by midcentury, city boundaries become indistinct and rural areas grow ever less relevant.

* * *

Barring fresh investment that could bring jobs, however, large swaths of the Great Plains and Appalachia, along with parts of Arkansas, Mississippi and North Texas, could face significant population declines.

Interestingly, a contrary message is being delivered at the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, where I am right now. Kenneth Johnson of Loyola University Chicago and the Carsey Institute says the AP figures are misleading for two reasons. First, they are imprecise about the starting point--that is the 2000 Census rural population, which they put at 20%, suggesting a 4% drop in the nation's rural population over the decade. Second, they do not acknowledge that the definition of rural has changed between the two censuses. Johnson says that, taking these two factors into account, the drop in population percentage was more like 17.3% to 16.5%.

Johnson noted that one state, West Virginia, has gone in to natural decrease in its entirety, while Maine is not far behind. Another focus of his comments was the fact that children are on vanguard of demographic change in rural America--in particular the children of immigrants in so-called new destinations.

No comments: