Rural counties where agriculture is a significant part of the local economy were more likely than the rest of rural America to lose population over the past decade, according to Daily Yonder analysis of US census data .
Counties that depend on recreation, on the other hand, were more likely to gain population than rural America as a whole.
According to the analysis, only 21% of rural counties whose economies depend on agriculture grew in population between 2010 and 2020.
Almost six in ten rural counties with recreation-oriented economies have grown in population over the past decade.
Nationally, about a third of the country’s 1,976 rural counties have grown in population over the past 10 years.
Only 84 of 391 rural counties dependent on agriculture gained in population from 2010 to 2020. Among recreation counties, 135 of 228 counties gained in population.
Over the 10-year period, rural counties with an agricultural economy lost 2.6% of their combined population. The combined population of recreational counties grew 3.5% over the same period.
Nationally, the rural population declined 0.6% from 46,340,000 to 46,060,000 over the past decade.
The analysis is based on the latest decennial census data and on a economic categorization system created by the USDA Economic Research Service. The ERS system assesses economic activity in each U.S. county and codes them as dependent on agriculture, manufacturing, mining, state and federal governments, and recreation. Counties that do not meet the criteria for any of the economic types are classified as non-specialized.
Counties classified as manufacturing, mining, state and federal, and unskilled were not significantly different from the overall pattern of slight rural population loss.
The agricultural category is based on the level of agricultural income and agricultural employment in a county. The leisure category is based on the combination of employment and personal income from leisure-related industries (eg restaurants, accommodation, entertainment, etc.) and the percentage of dwellings intended for seasonal use.
To define rural counties, the analysis used non-metropolitan counties classified by the Federal Office of Management and Budget. We used the 2013 OMB classifications to analyze the 2010 and 2020 data.