As we discussed in an earlier article (see September 2011 newsletter), data from the 2010 Census show that rural areas in the Great Plains and Midwest continue to lose population, while smaller cities and metropolitan areas continue to expand.
Our most recent report – Age Distribution on the Great Plains – looks at the 2010 Census data and changes on age distribution for a multi-state region that includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota and selected counties in Colorado, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The chart outlines age distribution by county type for the region (with rural – micropolitan – metropolitan from left to right in each group of bars).
This chart shows three basic facts related to age distribution in the region:
- For the youngest age group the three county types are essentially equal.
- The 20 to 44 years of age group – young, working age adults – is where rural areas begin to lag behind metropolitan and micropolitan counties. While the rural proportion for this age cohort is equal to the rural proportion of the younger age group, both metropolitan and micropolitan counties significantly increase their share of the population in this age group. In metropolitan counties of the region nearly two-thirds of the population is less than 45 years of age.
- Rural areas are older. Rural areas have a larger proportion of their population in the two oldest age groups (45 years of age and older) than do metropolitan and micropolitan counties. With nearly half the rural population 45 years of age and older, the needs of rural communities of the region and the services required in those communities are significantly different than in the urban areas of the region.
Implication for Rural Areas
The age distribution of the region’s population has significant implications for the region both immediately and in the long term. The relative youth of the urban areas of the region affects the economics of those counties and ultimately the rural counties of the region. As young, likely more educated people flock to micropolitan and metropolitan counties, investment will flow into those areas to create jobs and opportunities and to meet the needs of the expanding population.
Conversely, such investments are less likely in rural areas of the region. Rural communities and public policy must find alternative methods to create rural economic opportunities.
The relative age of rural areas of the region will also require emphasis on a different set of needs and services. Access to health care, retirement security and the stability of programs tied to senior populations will continue to be critical for large portions of the region’s rural population and economy.
In addition, the relatively large rural population of children suggests the need to maintain – or in some cases, enhance – those services and resources targeted to our youngest citizens.
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