There is a deepening sense of fear as population loss accelerates in rural America. The decline of small-town life is expected to be a looming topic in the presidential election.

America’s rural population began contracting about a decade ago, according to statistics drawn from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A whopping 81 percent of rural counties had more deaths than births between 2019 and 2023, according to an analysis by a University of New Hampshire demographer. Experts who study the phenomena say the shrinking baby boomer population and younger residents having smaller families and moving elsewhere for jobs are fueling the trend.

According to a recent Agriculture Department estimate, the rural population did rebound by 0.25 percent from 2020 to 2022 as some families decamped from urban areas during the pandemic.

But demographers say they are still evaluating whether that trend will continue, and if so, where. Pennsylvania has been particularly afflicted. Job losses in the manufacturing and energy industries that began in the 1980s prompted many younger families to relocate to Sun Belt states. The relocations helped fuel population surges in places like Texas and Georgia. But here, two-thirds of the state’s 67 counties have experienced a drop in population in recent years.

Non-paywall link

  • @[email protected]
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    13720 days ago
    • “younger residents having smaller families and moving elsewhere for jobs”
    • “many residents in this deeply Republican town”

    gee, I can’t imagine why young people would want to leave such a stagnant regressive environment …

  • aramis87
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    10820 days ago

    That’s been a general movement away from rural America for decades (and people have been leaving the countryside to make their fortune in the big city for centuries). However, this line stood out to me because of the timeframe cited:

    A whopping 81 percent of rural counties had more deaths than births between 2019 and 2023.

    Maybe I’m just still bitter, but maybe they should have tried social distancing, wearing masks, and getting vaccinated.

    • @[email protected]
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      2120 days ago

      Yeah, it is an interesting statistic, isn’t it? It definitely doesn’t seem like the kids moving away for better economic prospects is the only factor here.

    • @hydrospanner
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      1219 days ago

      Right.

      Honestly for as much “woe is me” that they crammed into this piece, my takeaway was mostly just, “Hmmm…good.”

      Like…I love rural PA, I’m just not wild about a lot of the people who live there. They vote against my own interests (and theirs), disproportionately influence state government, and welcome corporations that proudly destroy the environment while taking a hostile stance toward anyone not like them.

      This isn’t down to every last person, of course, but broadly speaking, the ones who aren’t fitting that template are also not the ones doing most of the dying.

      So the piece is reading, to me, more as, “the people most responsible for keeping the shitty aspects of Pennsylvania shitty are dying faster than they’re breeding”…which is good news for the more reasonable residents of the state.

    • @sirboozebum
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      919 days ago

      This is not limited to the United States either.

      Urbanisation and the growth of cities is across the industrialised world.

      For example, while Japan’s population shrinks, Tokyo is growing.

        • @Soggy
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          418 days ago

          We’ll probably live to see robot towns, where a small contingent of maintenence workers keep a huge fleet of automated farming/processing/shipping equipment operational. If they’re lucky Monsanto will buy a restaurant chain so there’s somewhere for them to eat nearby.

    • @[email protected]
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      819 days ago

      This stood out to me as well, the conservative stance on C-19 and the resulting general negligence seems a very obvious major factor to the rural population decline in this timeframe.

      • @stoly
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        419 days ago

        It would add a temporary valley into a graph that was already trending down.

  • @[email protected]
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    5920 days ago

    The decline is threefold:

    1. Agriculture is getting significantly more efficient. You don’t need 300 people do backbreaking labor for 12 hours a day in the beating sun anymore. We have automated threshers.

    2. Industries are shifting. We generally moved away from manufacturing and an extraction-based economy. (Though the former is recovering, thanks to Biden’s awesome investment plan)

    3. jobs are moving to cities, where there are more schools, hospitals, high paying jobs, and may be more resilient to climate change.

    Personally, I’d never ever consider moving anywhere rural for the aforementioned reasons, but also because rural americans are against my type family, and I don’t care to be the queer pioneer family for them to realize we aren’t so bad. I also never want to drive a car for a half hour+ for basic supplies or to see friends. It’s too lonely. We have rail and ebikes here. I can get to the store or a friend’s in less than 10 minutes.

    • @ikidd
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      820 days ago

      Having come back to the farm later in life, the issue with rural communities (at least in Canada) isn’t prejudice, it’s that everyone is up in everyone else’s business. But we have gay couples with kids around that seem to negotiate it fine. People are fine face to face usually.

      • @Soggy
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        618 days ago

        Fine face-to-face but still vote to make your existence illegal. I’m not alright with that kind of “civility” and it’s the reason I don’t connect with an arm of my extended family. Fuck em.

    • @[email protected]
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      19 days ago

      There are still a lot of workers needed in agriculture, but increasingly they are either undocumented migrants or on restrictive visas (like temporary foreign workers in Canada) that limit their bargaining power and let their employers exploit them with poor working conditions and rock bottom wages. This means that these workers often don’t have the means or income to participate much in the local economy beyond the bare essentials. This is actually a case of “trickle down economics” where paying workers fair, living wages would lead to healthier local economies where these workers could spend those wages and support having or starting a family.

  • @Jakdracula
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    4920 days ago

    No duh. Have you ever been out there? Sure, it’s pretty, but that’s it. Absolutely nothing to do. Except meth. Oh, and drunk driving and KKK rallies.

    • @TexasDrunk
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      1720 days ago

      I see you’ve been to my hometown.

      The other person that replied did mention a lot of cool things you can do in a rural community. But being half an hour from a grocery store that has something I actually want at a price that’s reasonable (as reasonable as groceries get, I guess) sucks.

      • @Jakdracula
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        1620 days ago

        Fucking exactly.

        Oh, I need bread, shit. Gotta get in the car and drive 60 miles an hour for 25 minutes each way. Great.

    • @afraid_of_zombies
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      1019 days ago

      Not hyperbole. If someone pointed a gun at me and told me that they would shot me if I don’t agree to move back to my sub-500 people Northern Appalachian village I would help that mother fucker load the gun.

    • Maeve
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      420 days ago

      Food and flower gardening, community or personal, waking, biking, swimming in rivers, fishing, sewing, knitting, getting to know your neighbors, barbecuing on wood or charcoal, building treehouses and swings, book clubs, picking up litter, mutual aid, sitting around and singing/playing instruments/swapping stories or making up tales to entertain children and each other, reading, pick up basketball/football/soccer/hackeysack, ride horses, hunt, fish, ride horses, dirt bikes, cards, dominoes, bird watching, butterfly watching. Board games, video games, potlucks. Plenty of stuff to do, it’s just usually a slower-paced activity.

      • @IamtheMorgz
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        1220 days ago

        While this is indeed a list, it pales in comparison to what you can do in or near a large city.

        I enjoy a ton of things on your list but there’s stuff you just can’t easily do outside of a metro area. Especially stuff you need a specialized teacher for.

        • Maeve
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          119 days ago

          I’m in an online class now with an instructor who merely reads the chapter previously assigned as homework and won’t answer questions about anything other than their social activities. In an ivy League University area. Conversely an instructor in tiny little Katy, TX a couple of years ago and originally from Alabama gave plenty of homework, had well - planned classes, actually thoroughly explained independent reading material, and also could answer in-depth questions on an ELI 5 level. It’s more to do with personal ability, interest and integrity and actually caring about/liking the job.

          • @TexasDrunk
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            519 days ago

            Katy ain’t tiny. Well, in and of itself it is but it’s part of the Houston metro. I live off the Energy Corridor. I can be in Katy in a few minutes. I can also be at a dozen grocery stores, an insane number of taco trucks, any type of bar you’d care to visit, escape rooms, several gyms (I’ve recently started rock climbing in one again!), and shit loads of white collar industry for a good paying job within a few minutes. My first IT job making more than $125k was 10 minutes out of Katy. It’s suburban, not rural.

            • Maeve
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              319 days ago

              I stand corrected! She said it was tiny, and at the time, I had plenty of work keeping me busy! Thanks for the information!

              • @TexasDrunk
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                219 days ago

                No worries! It’s less than half an hour to downtown Houston from here at this time of night and probably right at half an hour from Katy proper.

                I grew up in a true rural community of less than 1000. It was half an hour to the outskirts of the nearest city, and that place had 75,000 people. It was hours away from the outskirts of the closest REAL city, Dallas, with 1.3 million people. In contrast, Katy has 25,000 people and sits half an hour from the center of a city with 2.3 million people, nevermind the size of the metro area.

                So if she lived on the west side of Katy, she was describing the place as she saw it and that’s not on you. A small place as compared to Houston, and more on the rural side of the suburbs. I take my motorcycle out that way because if you leave headed west it’s pretty empty for a while.

                • Maeve
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                  219 days ago

                  Thank you, for your magnanimity and description. Happy trails, friend.

      • @afraid_of_zombies
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        1019 days ago

        Literally all of that I can do in an urban area. Especially video games. I know this is shocking to you but us city people have video games. Jesus

        • Maeve
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          -119 days ago

          It is until you realize (after a long adjustment period) that it’s pretty healthy, if you allow it to be.

      • @stoly
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        419 days ago

        I don’t see anything about diversity, having access to embassies, museums, universities, large businesses, etc. I just heard you say that you like to drive to all those places and have only one grocery store close by.

        • Maeve
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          019 days ago

          I’m not accepting your words in my mouth. What you think you heard is your business. Enjoy your evening at symphony. I’ve very much enjoyed mine.

          • @stoly
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            219 days ago

            That was actually a bit surprising as a response. It makes me more sure about what I said previously.

      • @SeattleRain
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        318 days ago

        Are you under the impression that parks and rivers don’t exist in cities?

  • Flying Squid
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    4920 days ago

    This rural Pennsylvania town could get a huge population boom if they had a “we welcome queer people and migrants and we don’t tolerate hate” policy they announced to the world.

    But of course, that’s way too far for them.

    • @[email protected]
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      1720 days ago

      I don’t think rural towns are depopulating due to hate or discrimination… it’s mostly because of job prospects, no?

      • @Confused_Emus
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        20 days ago

        Obviously my own experience is entirely anecdotal, but I think relevant to the point. I work 100% remotely, I just need a decent Internet connection. I currently live in a moderately sized city, and keeping up with the finances can be a struggle compared to the lower cost of rural living. However, I’m also a gay man, pro choice, I don’t care what two or more consenting adults do in the privacy of their home, etc. etc. etc. with all the usual liberal stuff.

        The job prospects aren’t why I left the rural southeastern US, and they aren’t the reason I’ll never go back there.

        These people were warned about the brain drain their bullshit would cause. I have no sympathy for them or their towns’ dwindling tax revenues.