Rural America, home to one in seven Americans, “is growing again after a decade of overall population loss” and is now home to 46 million people, said the USDA’s “Rural America at a Glance” report on Wednesday. Rural employment has recovered from the job losses of the pandemic, and 1% of rural workers hold clean energy jobs, about the same number as are employed in fossil fuels.
The rural population grew by one-quarter of a percentage point from mid-2020 to mid-2022, “a period of renewed growth after declining or net-zero annual growth rates between 2010 and 2020,” said the USDA. “The growth was driven by domestic migration into rural areas,” meaning more people moved into rural areas from cities than left those areas or died. In contrast, immigrants were the major factor in urban population growth during the two-year period.
Rural counties with the highest population growth were on the fringes of large metropolitan areas or in regions that are recreation or retirement destinations, such as the northern Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains, or the southern Appalachian and Ozark mountains. An increase in remote work was a contributing factor.
“Most nonmetro counties saw gains in population,” said the Economic Research Service report, though 829 of the country’s 1,976 rural counties lost population during 2020-2022. “The majority of counties with out-migration were located in the Great Plains, including in some regions dependent on oil and gas extraction.”
“For the first time in a decade, rural America is growing again, with more and more Americans moving to rural communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Despite the good news, the report makes clear that challenges remain. Rural poverty has declined in most — but not all — rural counties.”
As in the rest of the country, rural employment plunged in 2020, when Covid-19 spread across America and many people were told to stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus. By mid-2023, rural employment had reached 20.2 million people, almost on par with 20.4 million before the pandemic. The rural unemployment rate was the lowest in three decades.
In 2021, there were more than 243,000 clean energy jobs in rural America, equal to 1 percent of total employment, based on Energy Department data, said the report. “The scale of nonmetro clean energy jobs is of a similar order of magnitude to those from traditional fossil fuel extraction in the USEER [an Energy Department report] — with more than 243,000 in clean energy jobs, compared with about 239,000 jobs in coal, petroleum, and natural gas extraction and power generation.”
The rural poverty rate of 15 percent was higher than the urban rate of 11.6 percent, said the Census Bureau in September. And the median household income of $55,960 in rural America was more than $21,000 lower than the metropolitan median. Rural residents tend to be older and have less formal education than people in the rest of the country.
The 2023 “Rural America at a Glance” report is available here.