From the Archives

The Southern Democrat, February 17, 1977

On the rural route

Rural areas and small towns continue to grow in population at a faster rate than metropolitan areas.

Figures just released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that between 1970 and 1975 rural population and small towns in the United States grew by 3.6 million people, a 6.6 percent increase while urban population increased 4.1 percent.

The renewed rural population growth, first reported in the 1970-72 period, reverses the massive rural-to-urban migration that occurred from World War II through the 1960s. Non-metro counties had lost 3 million people through out-migration in the 1960s.

The rural revival is not a back-to-the-farm movement, the Agriculture Department said. In 1970- 1975, the U.S. farm population declined by about 850,000 or 8.7 percent. Although more Americans are living in rural areas, an increasing proportion of them are not farmers.

Both economics and attitudes are causing people to move into non-metro areas. A key economic factor is that employment there has increased faster than in metro areas in every major industry except government.

About half the migration to non-metro counties in 1970-74 was to retirement counties, where people usually go by choice rather than employment.

Another reason cited by the Agriculture Department for the movement to non-metro areas is the narrowing gap between urban and rural quality of life. Conveniences such as water supply, plumbing, heating, electricity, roads, and communications are available now in rural areas. A “city limits” sign no longer signals a striking difference between lifestyle and convenience.

Other factors enter into the population change. For example, the end of significant additional losses in farm employment; the revival of mining; continued growth of a retired population; the impact of the environmental and ecological movements on residential preferences; the high cost of metropolitan housing; and the emergence of an adequate system of higher education in non-metro areas.