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U.S. Census: Only 16% live in rural America

The American flag blows in the wind off the back of the Ellis Island/Liberty Island Ferry with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Steve Chiotakis: Chances are a number of those houses being sold are in urban areas. That's because the least amount of people in U.S. history are now living in rural areas. That's according to new data from the Census department. Sixteen percent of Americans live in areas that aren't part of a metropolitan area. Kenneth Johnson is a Senior Demographer with the University of New Hampshire. He's with us this morning from Boise, Idaho, where he'll be speaking today about rural populations.

Good morning, Kenneth.

Kenneth Johnson: Good morning.

Chiotakis: I want to talk about this 16 percent number, because that refers to the entire country, but you know, here in the west, there's a lot of wide-open space. Are the trends the same?

Johnson: Depends a lot on where you are -- what's going on in rural America -- in the recreational and retirement areas which Idaho certainly has some of, and the west in general has a substantial number of recreational and retirement areas in rural America -- those are parts of rural America that are actually doing pretty well. They grew by about 12 percent. In the farming parts of the west, the growth rate was much slower -- only about 0.3 percent growth and only about 29 percent of the farm counties even gained populations, so it really varies depending on where you are in rural America what's going on.

Chiotakis: We're talking about how many people live in rural areas. What does it mean for how our economy works.

Johnson: The relationship between rural and urban America has always been fairly complicated. Rural areas supplying water, food, fiber, recreation for the urban parts of the country. And the urban parts of the country of course providing population, and the centers of the headquarters of the big corporations, so I think that relationship is going to continue to exist and it's based partially on population and based partially on other things.

Chiotakis: I want you to get out your crystal ball for a second, Kenneth, and look say, I don't know, 50 years into the future. Do you think many people will still be living in rural areas then?

Johnson: Well, I'm not one for projections like that, but I think rural America's going to remain a viable part of America. It's growing the most on the edges that are near urban areas. With the baby boomers retiring, there's going to be a lot of recreational and retirement migration in rural areas, so I think parts of rural America are going to do fine. There are other parts of rural America which have been losing population for decades, and probably will continue to fade as the future comes.

Chiotakis: Senior Demographer Kenneth Johnson from the University of New Hampshire. Kenneth, thank you.

Johnson: You're welcome.

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