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For Some Rural Southern Counties, Departure Worse Than Death

For Some Rural Southern Counties, Departure Worse Than Death

It’s refreshing when statistics bear out what our instincts tell us will happen. And here’s one of those: Generally speaking, Southern counties with the highest unemployment rates tend to have declining populations—that is, when people can’t get a job, they’re likely to leave town.

To back up a little, in an April blog post, we looked at recent Census data that shows how natural decrease (a fancy way of saying a county had more deaths than births) is affecting population decreases in rural counties. Today, we look at outmigration: another factor influencing rural population decline.

According to a recent analysis from John Cromartie, between April 2010 and July 2012, the nation’s non-metro counties lost population for the first time in history. Though these counties actually saw a natural increase of 135,000 people (more births than deaths), that gain was offset by an outmigration of more than 185,000—a net decrease of 50,600 people.

In the South, even though 50 percent of non-metro counties experienced natural decrease over the same time period, natural increase in the other 50 percent resulted in a net increase of 41,408 overall for non-metro Southern counties (494,764 births compared to 453,356 deaths). However, 65 percent of non-metro counties experienced outmigration (more people moving out than in) contributing to a net loss of 64,000 people, more than wiping out all the natural population gains. All told, non-metro counties in the South experienced a net population decrease of 22,868 people.

What is driving the outmigration from these counties?

As a 2010 USDA report found, migration is much more likely to occur “in response to changes in local conditions," such as changes in the job market, suggesting that migration might be a good barometer of economic conditions.

Compare the in-and-outmigration map below with the map of unemployment in metro and non-metro counties, and you’ll see what we mean. 

(Click to view larger image.)

(Click to view larger image.)