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Rural Communities

Trends in Rural Migration

Data about migration illustrate the dynamics and extent of population movement within a community. These data can help inform our understanding of population change in an area.

How Is migration defined?

A migrant is anyone who moves his or her place of primary residence across a county, state, or national boundary. A person who moves his or her primary residence across town or somewhere within their county is considered a "mover" not a migrant. In-migrants are those people who entered a particular area from somewhere else, out-migrants are the people who left a particular area to go somewhere else, and net-migration is the total number of in-migrants minus out-migrants. If net-migration figures are positive that indicates more people moved into an area than out (though there may have been quite a bit of out-migration) and if net-migration is negative it means that more people moved out of an area than in to it.

In the U.S., it is very difficult to know how many people migrated in or out of an area in a given year because there is no record of migration kept for people who move within the U.S. International in-migration is the only type of migration that is recorded, but these statistics only include legal or documented immigrants.

There are a couple of ways to estimate migration statistics. The migration statistic available on the Communities Reporter Tool provides an estimate of in-migration. On the long form of the decennial census (1990 and 2000), a sample of the U.S. population is asked if they lived in a different house five years previous. If they did, then they are considered a migrant or mover. Then, based on the location of that house (in the same county or outside) the respondent provides they can be distinguished as a migrant or a mover. The statistics that come from the census thus give us an estimate of in-migration to particular areas within the previous five years. 

The long form of the decennial census doesn't exist any more, so now the American Community Survey is the source of similar information. On this survey, a sample of the U.S. population is asked if they lived in a different house one year prior to the date they're completing the survey. If they did, then they are considered a migrant or mover. Though this measure is similar to the one from the long form, because it uses a different reference period (one year prior as opposed to five years prior) it's not technically comparable to the data from the 1990 and 2000 long forms of the census. 

Trends in Rural Migration

Excerpted from: Johnson, Kenneth and John B. Cromartie. 2006. The Rural Rebound and its Aftermath: Changing Demographic Dynamics and Regional Contrasts. In W.A. Kandel and D.L. Brown (eds.), Population Change and Rural Society (25-49). Netherlands: Springer.

Highway 140 east of Lakeview

Highway 140 east of Lakeview, Lake County:
Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

"Through most of the 20th century, nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) areas experienced modest population growth because the excess of births over deaths was sufficient to offset migration losses. The magnitude of the migration loss varied from decade to decade but the pattern was quite consistent: more people left rural areas than came to them. This changed abruptly in the 1970s when rural America experienced a remarkable demographic turnaround, with population gains in nonmetropolitan areas exceeding those in metropolitan areas for the first time in at least 150 years. The rural turnaround appeared to wane in the 1980s as widespread out migration and population decline reemerged. Rural demographic trends rebounded again in the 1990s. However, recent findings suggest that the rebound diminished in the late 1990s, adding yet another twist to the complex pattern of population change in rural America (Beale, 2000; Cromartie, 2001; Johnson, 2000)...

"Data from the 2000 census substantiate earlier reports that a rural population rebound occurred during the 1990s. The nonmetropolitan population was 56.1 million in April 2000, a gain of 5.3 million (10.3 percent) since April 1990. This is a striking contrast to the 1980s when nonmetropolitan areas grew by fewer than 1.3 million. Net migration now plays the most important role in redistributing the U.S. population because of recent reductions in natural increase and rising immigration...

"From a strictly demographic viewpoint, the rebound in rural population growth in the 1990s was caused by an increase in migration from metropolitan areas. It took place despite a persistent drop in population growth from natural increase. With nonmetropolitan birth rates now at historically low levels and death rates on the rise due to an aging population, migration will dominate future rural demographic trends. As a result, the fortunes of rural America in this new century are ever more closely intertwined with events beyond its boundaries and with the social, economic factors, including the relative cost of labor and transportation in China's burgeoning manufacturing sector, affect the future employment prospects of workers in U.S. rural manufacturing plants. Technological innovations influence the extent of outsourcing of back office and customer service functions to the Philippines or India and thus the viability of the many call-back centers located in rural America. Political decisions about immigration policy influence the number of immigrants settling in rural areas near meat-and-poultry processing centers on the Great Plains, in the Carolinas, and elsewhere."

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Links to additional sources of information about migration

Age-specific net-migration statistics by county, for entire U.S., from University of Wisconsin-Madison Applied Population Lab:

http://www.netmigration.wisc.edu/

In-migration and out-migration statistics by county, for entire U.S., based on analysis of IRS filing data by Forbes Magazine:

https://www.forbes.com/special-report/2011/migration.html

Census Flows Mapper - migration flows, by age, sex, race, and Latino/Hispanic-origin, by county, for entire U.S., from U.S. Census Bureau:

http://flowsmapper.geo.census.gov/

Migration-Related Terms

To explore the movement and migration of individuals within an area the following statistics are available:

  • Prevalence of Migrants & Movers The percentage of the current population (e.g., 2000) that lived in a different house 5 years previous (e.g., 1995).
    Formula: ([# lived in different house 5 years prior]/[total population])*100
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

  • Rural & Urban Migration:

    Migrants from urban areas: the percentage of migrants who lived in a metropolitan area (as defined by the US Census Bureau) five years prior to the Census.
    Formula: ([# living in metro area in 1995]/[total # migrants])*100
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

    Migrants from rural areas: the percentage of migrants who lived in a non-metropolitan area (as defined by the US Census Bureau) five years prior to the Census.
    Formula: ([# living in non-metro area in 1995]/[total # migrants])*100
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

  • Migrations & Moves by Original Location: The percentage of migrants and movers who came from various areas: the same county, a different county in OR, the Northeast, the Midwest, the South, elsewhere in the West, or elsewhere.
    Formula: ([# migrants from same county]/[total # of migrants])*100
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Sources

Excerpted from: Johnson, Kenneth and John B. Cromartie. 2006. The Rural Rebound and its Aftermath: Changing Demographic Dynamics and Regional Contrasts. In W.A. Kandel and D.L. Brown (eds.), Population Change and Rural Society (25-49). Netherlands: Springer.

Authored and compiled by Lena Etuk, Social Demographer, Oregon State University Extension Service (2008)