Population loss in rural America since 2010

Countering a recent argument that rural areas are experiencing a “brain gain,” new Census data shows nonmetro counties experienced a net population loss between 2010 and 2012:

The number of people living in nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) counties now stands at 46.2 million–15 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the land area of the U.S. Population growth rates in nonmetro areas have been lower than those in metro areas since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years. While nonmetro areas in some parts of the country have experienced population loss for decades, nonmetro counties as a whole gained population every year for which county population estimates are available–until recently. Between April 2010 and July 2012, nonmetro counties declined in total population by 44,000 people, a -0.09-percent drop according to the most recent release of annual county population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. County population change includes two major components: natural change (births minus deaths, also available separately) and net migration (inmigrants minus outmigrants). Nonmetro population loss during 2010-12 reflects natural increase of 135,000 offset by net outmigration of -179,000.

New population estimates are subject to revision, the rate of nonmetro population decline since 2010 is quite small, and the trend may be short-lived depending on the course of the economic recovery. Nonetheless, the 2010-12 period marks the first years with estimated population loss for nonmetro America as a whole. Even if temporary, this historic shift highlights a growing demographic challenge facing many regions across rural and small-town America, as population growth from natural change is no longer large enough to counter cyclical net migration losses.

And here is an interesting chart looking at population growth in cities, suburbs, and rural areas:

This would seem to contradict the idea of a rural “brain gain.” Perhaps it is a more complicated story:

1. More educated people could be choosing to move to rural areas but less educated people are leaving rural areas in search of opportunities elsewhere.

2. A “brain gain” is happening in certain places but not across rural areas as a whole.

But, the takeaway is still important: this may be when American rural areas really run into problems as the natural population growth is not enough to keep up with out-migration.

Smart Midwesterners flock to Chicago?

An excerpt from a new book about the Rust Belt looks at why Chicago attracts so many educated Midwesterners:

The North Side of Chicago is such a refuge for young economic migrants from my home state that its nickname is “Michago.” In 2000, a quarter of Michigan State University graduates left the state. By 2010, half were leaving, and the city with the most recent graduates was not East Lansing or Detroit but Chicago. Michigan’s universities once educated auto executives, engineers, and governors. Now their main purpose is giving Michigan’s brightest young people the credentials they need to get the hell out of the state.

In the 2000s, Michigan dropped from 30th to 35th in percentage of college graduates. Chicago is the drain into which the brains of the Middle West disappear. Moving there is not even an aspiration for ambitious Michiganders. It’s the accepted endpoint of one’s educational progression: grade school, middle school, high school, college, Chicago. Once, in a Lansing bookstore, I heard a clerk say with a sigh, “We’re all going to end up in Chicago.” An Iowa governor once traveled to Chicago just to beg his state’s young people to come home…

As Chicago transformed itself from a city of factories to a global financial nexus, its class structure was transformed in exactly the way globalization’s enemies had predicted. “Many Chicagoans live better than ever, in safe housing in vibrant neighborhoods, surrounded by art and restaurants, with good public transport whisking them to exciting jobs in a dazzling city center that teems with visitors and workers from around the world,” wrote Richard C. Longworth in Caught in the Middle, his 2008 book on the modern Midwest. “And many Chicagoans live worse than ever.

I look forward to reading the more complete argument. This excerpt suggests the changes that have made certain Chicago locations so attractive, places like the Loop, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Bucktown, etc., come at a cost as other areas of Chicago have seen little improvement.

This also seems related to the ideas of Richard Florida and the creative class. Florida tends to rank all US cities on his creative scale indexes. Could there be regional creative class cities? Chicago isn’t at the top of Florida’s rankings but it might attract a sizable number of the Midwest creative class. A city doesn’t necessarily have to attract the creative class from throughout the United States to experience some of their influence.

It would be helpful to see data on this. Who exactly is moving to Chicago? For example, looking at a place like Michigan, where do college graduates and other young adults go if they leave the state? Or, looking at the Chicago area itself, do they tend to stay in the metropolitan area at similar rates to other major cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Philadelphia, and others (and there could be very different patterns going on in each of these major cities)?

A “brain gain” in rural America?

A rural sociologist argues that rural America is experiencing a “brain gain” of young adults:

Hjartarson is among what University of Minnesota Rural Sociologist Ben Winchester coins the “Brain Gain,” in rural America.

“Discussions about the future of rural communities can have a negative tone, but this isn’t your grandfather’s rural,” Winchester said. “You look at the numbers and you can see the rural narrative is being rewritten.”…

However, the actual number of people living in rural areas in the United States increased between 1970 and 2010 from 53.5 million to 59.5 million. Urban areas grew, too, but at a rate faster than rural areas, resulting in a proportional decline of the population living rural.

“When it comes to 30- to 40-year-olds, one in five live in a rural area today,” Winchester said. “There is a growth in rural areas among the 30- to 35-year-old cohort, an age when a lot of people are re-examining their lives and looking for low density living. That’s also the cohort we are seeing decreasing in numbers in many metro areas.”…

“When it comes to the reasons 30- to 40-year-olds say they want to move to a rural area, jobs isn’t even in the top 10,” Winchester said. “Quality of life is No. 1. Others are a slower pace, lower cost of housing, and safety and security. Many of these people are creating their own jobs.”

Sounds interesting but we would have to see more data to tease this out. If the rural population increased 6 million between 1970 and 2010, how much of this was due to birth rates in these areas versus new residents moving in? How does the rural population growth rate compare to that of cities and suburbs? That to me is the real comparison: how do rural areas stack up against the dominant place of living for Americans: the suburbs.

Also, it sounds like this could be a class issue based on the quality of life issues pushing people toward rural areas. Who exactly are the 30-40-year-olds moving to rural areas? Would it be safe to guess that they are generally well educated and have the abilities and training for creating their own jobs?

Trend of some moving back to rural areas?

A sociologist  argues that while there may be a lot of talk (and data) about adults seeking out denser communities, there is a countertrend of some adults moving to rural areas.

Tolkkinen’s experience is similar to that of many people who move from the city to the country. They love the beauty and peace and security. But they tend to have a hard time finding decent paying jobs and don’t like to drive the long distances to work, school and shopping.

Winchester posits that while young people continue to leave rural areas for the cities, there is an ongoing countertrend of people in their 30s and 40s moving back. He calls the phenomenon the “brain gain.” We’ll have more coverage of the report this afternoon, but here’s a summary of what people told us…

Interestingly, Winchester has found that people who move or return to rural areas tend to have higher incomes and be more civically engaged than longtime locals. That’s definitely true of Ann Thompson, who returned to her hometown of Milan, in western Minnesota, seven years ago after living overseas for 18 years. “When I left, I didn’t necessarily think I would come back,” she said. “I just thought I wanted to see the world.”…

Cheap housing draws a lot of people to rural Minnesota, judging by Winchester’s research and responses to our PIN query. Hoglin wrote that her husband “was missing rural life and wanted to be able to hunt and fish more often. I was definitely not missing rural life, but eventually warmed to the idea of moving back when I realized we could afford to buy an acreage, while we couldn’t afford to buy anything in the Twin Cities area.”

Most of this isn’t too surprising; people who move to rural areas find both advantages and disadvantages. I did find it interesting that those who move have higher incomes and higher levels of civic engagement: are they moving because they have the option to do so (you have to have money to move and perhaps going to a rural area is just another choice to try out for a while) and/or they are seeking out some “authentic community” they haven’t found elsewhere?

This article reminds me of a foundational concept in urban sociology: place matters. Even in a connected world where people can use the Internet to communicate and work from a distance, where one lives still matters a lot for jobs, cultural amenities, and social life.

I wish there were actual numbers in this story: how many people are actually moving back to rural areas? How many are doing it because of economic reasons (cheaper), family reasons (caring for family), or looking for something in the rural environment they can’t find elsewhere?

A possible French “brain drain” due to French academics moving to US

A new report suggests that the French economy will suffer due to the larger number of French academics who are choosing to relocate in the United States:

The report, by the Institut Montaigne, a leading independent research group in Paris, found that academics constitute a much larger percentage of French émigrés to the United States today than 30 years ago. According to the report, between 1971 and 1980, academics represented just 8 percent of the departing population; between 1996 and 2006, they represented 27 percent of the departing population…

Of the 2,745 French citizens who obtained a doctorate in the United States from 1985 to 2008, 70 percent settled there, the study found…

Today, many French academics working in the United States say their choice to leave their country was largely motivated by an American system “where universities are larger, richer and more flexible than in France,” said Dr. Philippon, the professor at New York University…

The French lifestyle, which puts a higher value on quality of living and less emphasis on competition and getting ahead, is no longer sufficient to keep talented researchers in France, many scientists said. In a country where science is often viewed as cut off from society, French universities do little to glorify their researchers, they said, and offer working conditions that are often mediocre.

It appears that the American educational system is quite attractive because of its opportunities, monetary and otherwise.

On the whole, this seems like a cultural issue: what should universities be like? Is the American model something that others in the world aspire to or are there other successful ways to construct universities and encourage scholarship? It would be interesting to hear from the other side, French academics who chose to stay in France (particularly when they could have gone elsewhere) or French professors in fields not mentioned in this article that are viewed more positively within the French academy.

h/t Instapundit