LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – A number of Michigan counties, among others nationally, have had such a population boom that they have outgrown their rural population designation, a new report found. 

A recent report by the Rural America at a Glance from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) found that the net rural population expanded by nearly  25% from 2020 through 2022 in part because of migration. 

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“The increases in nonmetropolitan population resulted from gains in net domestic migration,” according to the report. “These gains exceeded natural declines due to more deaths than births in the same period. Most nonmetropolitan counties experienced net domestic in-migration, particularly counties located near large metro areas and in recreation and retirement destinations. However, 42 percent of nonmetropolitan counties decreased in population from net domestic out-migration.”

As counties grow in population, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMD) reassigns their classification every ten years. In the latest update from this past July, 72 nonmetro counties switched to metro status, and 52 metro counties switched to the nonmetro status. 

“The net loss for nonmetro areas due to reclassification (162,361 people) is by far the lowest for any decade since 1950 when metro areas were first delineated,” the report said. “The change marks a historic downturn in urbanization during 2010–20 caused by a number of factors, including a much lower overall population growth rate for the United States and lower levels of suburbanization through much of the decade.”

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Michigan’s Benzie, Grand Traverse, Ionia, Kalkaska, and Leelenau earned their metropolitan stripes as populations have increased; however, Van Buren County shifted to a nonmetro status. 

The study also examined poverty rates in nonmetro counties and found an overall decrease over a 15 year period. 

“An analysis of annual county-level poverty rate estimates for 2007 through 2021 indicates that the majority (86 percent) of all nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) counties experienced a downward trend in poverty over the 15-year period,” the study said. “The decrease in poverty rate was statistically significant (i.e., clearly declining) for 109 non- metro counties.”

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The effects of COVID-19 on the job market was also analyzed in the study, which recorded steady but slow job growth after the pandemic. 

“The total number of rural residents employed had not yet recovered to prepandemic levels by early 2023,” the study said. “Rural employment decreased 10 percent (from 20.2 million to 18.3 million employed) from the first to the second quarter of 2020, as stay-at-home orders were put in place across much of the Nation in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

By the second quarter of 2023, the study found that rural employment stood at 20.2 million people, just 1% lower than prepandemic levels. 

Part of the job growth came from the clean energy occupations, which accounted for roughly 1%, or 243,000 jobs in rural communities in 2021, while roughly 239,000 nonmetropolitan jobs were in coal, petroleum, and natural gas. 

Michigan has been recognized as a Top 10 state for investing in new Electric Vehicle jobs, many of which would be in rural areas. 

The full report from the ERS can be found here