David L. Martin

in praise of science and technology

Rural America Continues to Hollow Out

The new census data are out, and they clearly show the continuation, if not the acceleration, of a trend that has been apparent for a few decades now: Rural America is slowly hollowing out. Although the vast majority of states saw population increases, in many cases these were quite modest. The population of my home state of Louisiana, for example, increased only 2.7% in 10 years. 22 states saw increases of less than 5%, and 3 states saw declines.

What is more significant is that the vast majority of the increases were concentrated in urban and suburban areas, with particular locations being focal points. Huge swaths of middle America are slowly losing population. 76% of the 105 counties in Kansas lost population, and almost half saw declines of more than 5%. In my home state of Louisiana, 72% of parishes lost population, and 42% lost more than 5%. Even in the Northeast, rural areas generally lost population.

Meanwhile, many cities saw increases, some quite dramatic. Florida and Texas were particularly noteworthy. Austin, Houston, the Orlando metro area, and the coastal cities of the Florida peninsula saw dramatic increases. Osceola County, just south of Orlando, increased 45%. Hays County, just south of Austin, increased 53%. Strikingly, Los Angeles County in California increased only 2%. Cuyahoga County, Ohio, containing the city of Cleveland, actually declined 2%.

A prevalent media narrative has it that Californians are abandoning the state in large numbers, while Texas is growing rapidly. But a closer look reveals that most of Texas is slowly depopulating. While the big cities in Texas grow rapidly, white rural Texas is losing population. Most rural Texas counties have seen population declines exceeding 5%. Many have declined more than 15% in just 10 years. Meanwhile, in California only 11 counties have seen population declines, and only 4 of these have exceeded 5%. These are concentrated in the northern, rural part of the state, which is overwhelmingly white.

In another 10 years, many baby boomers will be gone. The white population of America is already declining and this will accelerate. The rural/urban divide has largely become a partisan divide in America, and the increasing urbanization of the country means big trouble for Republicans. Texas is already majority non-white, and non-whites in Texas are overwhelmingly Democratic. Texas will soon gain 2 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and there will be a huge battle over redistricting in that state. Texas will likely be the focal point of a national shift in politics over the next 20 years. It is virtually inevitable that at some point Texas will turn blue, probably by 2030. When Texas turns blue, it will be over for the Republican party nationally.

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