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A Demographic Lifeline? Immigration and Hispanic Population Growth in Rural America

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Can immigration save rural and small town America? Our goal is to highlight the new racial dynamics of population change in nonmetropolitan areas, where slowing population growth rates since 1990 eventuated in widespread depopulation during the post-2010 period. We use 3141 counties as the unit of analysis, tracking population change data over the 1990 to 2017 period. Our results, based on decennial census counts and population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, show that Hispanic population growth has been spatially ubiquitous, occurring in both declining and growing nonmetropolitan counties. Hispanic growth has slowed but not reversed chronic declines in rural population. Significantly, the growth of Latinos benefited a majority of historically depopulating or declining nonmetropolitan counties as well as nonmetropolitan counties that have continued to grow. Our analyses also reveal substantial heterogeneity in patterns of population change in nonmetropolitan America. Latino population growth often makes the difference between overall county population growth and decline. Nearly 200 nonmetropolitan counties grew during the 2010–2017 period, but only because Hispanic population increases offset non-Hispanic population declines. For these counties, which account for about 10 percent of all nonmetropolitan counties, Latinos clearly provided a demographic lifeline. Hispanics population gains were usually insufficient to reverse population declines in historically depopulating counties but nevertheless slowed the pace of decline. Hispanic growth was greatest in counties where the population was growing, resulting in a demographic multiplier effect.
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Population Research and Policy Review
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-020-09605-8
1 3
ORIGINAL PAPER
A Demographic Lifeline? Immigration andHispanic
Population Growth inRural America
DanielT.Lichter1 · KennethM.Johnson2
Received: 21 December 2019 / Accepted: 23 August 2020
© Springer Nature B.V. 2020
Abstract
Can immigration save rural and small town America? Our goal is to highlight the
new racial dynamics of population change in nonmetropolitan areas, where slowing
population growth rates since 1990 eventuated in widespread depopulation during
the post-2010 period. We use 3141 counties as the unit of analysis, tracking popula-
tion change data over the 1990 to 2017 period. Our results, based on decennial cen-
sus counts and population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, show that His-
panic population growth has been spatially ubiquitous, occurring in both declining
and growing nonmetropolitan counties. Hispanic growth has slowed but not reversed
chronic declines in rural population. Significantly, the growth of Latinos benefited
a majority of historically depopulating or declining nonmetropolitan counties as
well as nonmetropolitan counties that have continued to grow. Our analyses also
reveal substantial heterogeneity in patterns of population change in nonmetropoli-
tan America. Latino population growth often makes the difference between overall
county population growth and decline. Nearly 200 nonmetropolitan counties grew
during the 2010–2017 period, but only because Hispanic population increases off-
set non-Hispanic population declines. For these counties, which account for about
10 percent of all nonmetropolitan counties, Latinos clearly provided a demographic
lifeline. Hispanics population gains were usually insufficient to reverse population
declines in historically depopulating counties but nevertheless slowed the pace of
decline. Hispanic growth was greatest in counties where the population was grow-
ing, resulting in a demographic multiplier effect.
Keywords Population growth· Immigration· Nonmetropolitan· Migration·
Depopulation· Rural· census
Earlier drafts of this paper were presented at the conference of the European Society for Rural
Sociology, Trondheim, Norway, June 25-28, 2019, and at the annual meetings of the Rural
Sociological Society, Richmond, VA, August 7-10, 2019. The authors acknowledge the helpful
comments of the co-editors and the external reviewers.
* Daniel T. Lichter
Dtl28@cornell.edu
Extended author information available on the last page of the article
D.T.Lichter, K.M.Johnson
1 3
Introduction
Absolute population decline—depopulation—has become a demographic reality in
many parts of nonmetropolitan America over the last century (Johnson and Lichter
2019). Indeed, for over 24 percent of all U.S. counties, population size peaked in
1950 or earlier. The prospect of depopulation looms large for many more rapidly
aging rural counties “left behind” by an increasingly urban settlement system and
shifts away from farming and other extractive industries, including timber and min-
ing. Chronic rural outmigration of young adults—those of reproductive ages—has
drained the demographic resilience from many rural communities, while fueling
urban growth and metropolitan expansion. The decline of America’s rural areas is
symptomatic of fundamental shifts in the economy which are expressed in changing
population structure, especially low fertility and population aging, which ultimately
reduce community wellbeing and the prospect of population growth and a sustain-
able future (Johnson and Lichter 2008; Peters 2019).
Ironically, rural America is at the same time being transformed by unprecedented
rural in-migration of new immigrant populations, especially Hispanics from Mexico
and other parts of Latin America (Kandel and Cromartie 2004; Lichter 2012; Sharp
and Lee 2017).1 Our goal here is to highlight the new racial dynamics of rural pop-
ulation growth and decline. Specifically, we ask: Has the new influx of Hispanics
provided a demographic lifeline to rural communities, offsetting chronic population
declines?2 Hispanics today represent only a small fraction of the rural population,
but nevertheless have played an outsized role in recent rural demographic and eco-
nomic trends (Lichter 2012). Latinos accounted for roughly 25 percent of nonme-
tropolitan growth in the 1990s (Kandel and Cromartie 2004). In 2010, Hispanics
represented 7.6 percent of the nonmetropolitan population, yet they accounted for
63 percent of the entire rural population gain between 2000 and 2010 (Johnson and
Lichter 2016). Today, changing patterns of racial and ethnic diversity are implicated
in newly unfolding patterns of population growth and settlement across rural and
small town America (Hallet al. 2016; Johnson and Lichter 2016; Marrow 2009).
We have three specific objectives. First, we document the rapid population
growth and widespread spatial dispersal of Hispanics into many nonmetropolitan
counties from 1990 to 2017. Building on early work on new Hispanic destinations
(Kandel and Cromartie 2004), we show that these patterns stand in sharp contrast
to those of whites and other non-Hispanics. The racial transformation observed in
1 We recognize that all Hispanics or Latinos are not immigrants—the so-called first generation or for-
eign-born population. However, demographers often refer to the Hispanic immigrant stock, which is
comprised of both first- and second-generation (i.e., U.S.-born of foreign-born parents). By this defini-
tion, 83 percent of all adult Hispanics are of immigrant stock (Pew Research Center 2004), the popula-
tion group that dominates the new patterns of net migration and redistribution in rural America (Lichter
and Johnson 2012). In 2014, immigrant stock accounted for roughly 2/3rds of the Latino population,
including children (Waters and Pineau 2016).
2 In this paper, we use Hispanics and Latinos interchangeably, recognizing that Hispanics is a term typ-
ically used by the Census Bureau in demographic reports or by demographers, but also is sometimes
found objectionable among racial and ethnic scholars who prefer Latino/a/x.
1 3
A Demographic Lifeline? Immigration andHispanic Population…
America’s metropolitan cities and suburbs is now well underway in many parts of
rural America (Nevarez and Simons 2020; Lichter etal. 2018). Second, we show
that America’s growing Hispanic population has left a large demographic footprint
on rural America. Hispanic population growth since 1990 has provided a counter-
weight to chronic outmigration, below-replacement fertility and increasing mortal-
ity across nonmetropolitan America, even in historically depopulating counties (i.e.,
counties that peaked in population in 1950 or earlier). Third, we highlight the demo-
graphic reach and widespread impact of new Hispanic growth across America’s
rural counties. Our results highlight the fact that many rural counties would have
experienced population decline in the absence of Hispanic population growth—both
from in-migration and from the second-order demographic effects of high fertility
(Lichter etal 2012). Over the past decade or two, a large number of nonmetropolitan
counties avoided population loss—or outright depopulation—but only because His-
panic population growth exceeded white natural decrease and net outmigration.
Background
Master Demographic Trends inRural America
Two master demographic trends have characterized much of rural or nonmetro-
politan America over the past 30years or more. One is rural depopulation—abso-
lute population decline (Cromartie 2017; Johnson and Lichter 2019). The other is
unprecedented in-migration of Hispanics into new immigrant destinations, mostly
to work in big agriculture, slaughterhouses, and meatpacking or poultry processing
plants, among other low-wage, low-skill occupations (Crowley and Knepper 2019;
Kandel and Cromartie 2004; Kandel and Parrado 2005). Perhaps ironically, these
two master trends are seemingly working at demographic cross-purposes. While
depopulation is a characteristic feature of many nonmetropolitan counties today,
new Hispanic growth has fundamentally changed the trajectory of population and
economic growth in many other rural areas. In the United States, these demographic
trends are seldom considered together or viewed as interrelated. This contrasts with
many case studies in Europe (Spain, Sweden, and Northern Ireland, among others),
where immigration is frequently viewed as a demographic and economic panacea
for historically depopulating rural areas (Collantes etal. 2014; Hedlund etal. 2017;
McAreavey 2017).
For the first time in U.S. history, nonmetropolitan counties experienced absolute
population decline in the post-2010 period (Cromartie 2017). The population living
in nonmetropolitan counties was 46.1million in 2016, representing about 14 percent
of the U.S. population—a new low. Significantly, the nonmetropolitan population
declined each year between 2010 and 2016, before increasing slightly between 2016
and 2017. Well over one-half of all nonmetropolitan counties—over 1300—experi-
enced population declines between 2010 and 2017, losing 907,000 people in total
(Economic Research Service 2019). For many nonmetropolitan counties, depopula-
tion has been a chronic condition. Johnson and Lichter (2019), for example, showed
that 40 percent of all nonmetropolitan counties had reached their peak populations
D.T.Lichter, K.M.Johnson
1 3
in 1950 or earlier. A disproportionate share are located in remote parts of the coun-
try, most notably in isolated rural counties that are often far removed from grow-
ing metropolitan labor market areas. Chronic outmigration, especially among young
adults of reproductive age, has acted to depress overall fertility and increase mortal-
ity because of rapid population aging. Natural decrease is now widespread across
America’s nonmetropolitan counties (Johnson 2011). Deaths among non-Hispanic
whites exceeded births in 2061 U.S. counties in 2015, the most in U.S. history to
that date (Johnson 2020). More recently, 995 nonmetropolitan counties recorded
more deaths overall than births, resulting in a rural population loss of 284,000 peo-
ple from natural decease alone (Economic Research Service 2019). In nonmetro-
politan counties where natural increase still occurs, it is often no longer sufficient to
offset declines due to outmigration.
The paradox today is that widespread depopulation has occurred in concert with
new immigrant population growth in many parts of rural America (Jensen and Yang
2016; Lichter 2012). While the nonmetropolitan non-Hispanic white and black pop-
ulations have declined absolutely since 2010, the Hispanic population has continued
to grow, albeit more slowly in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Since 2012, for
example, the Latino population has increased by roughly 1.8 percent annually (Eco-
nomic Research Service 2018). Overall, nonmetropolitan population losses over the
past decade would have been even greater in the absence of widespread Hispanic
growth. Hispanics have traditionally concentrated in the Southwest, but shifting
employment opportunities nationally have led to a much wider geographic disper-
sion of jobs, especially in rural areas. In the meat processing industry, for example,
Hispanics accounted for 36 percent of its workforce; in crop agriculture, the majority
of farmworkers today are Hispanics, roughly split between documented and undocu-
mented workers (Economic Research Service 2018). To be sure, the large majority
of Hispanics today continue to live in metropolitan areas, but Hispanics nevertheless
accounted for about 9 percent the nonmetropolitan population in 2017, up from 5.4
percent in 2000. The increasing share of Hispanics is due to unusually rapid His-
panic population growth but, perhaps less appreciated, it also reflects unprecedented
declines among non-Hispanic whites and blacks (Johnson and Lichter 2016; Lichter
etal. 2018).
Hispanics andNonmetropolitan Population Growth
Whether Latinos can provide a demographic lifeline for rural America depends on
many factors. On the one hand, the depopulation of nonmetropolitan America over-
all in the 2010s occurred despite in-migration and growth among Hispanics. Depop-
ulation would have been even larger in the absence of Hispanic growth. On the other
hand, the growth of Hispanics across nonmetropolitan counties has been geographi-
cally uneven. This suggests that any demographic or economic benefits from new
Hispanic growth will be distributed unevenly. Indeed, Lichter (2012) showed that
Hispanic growth in just 10 percent of nonmetropolitan counties accounted for 50 per-
cent of all Hispanic population growth during the 2000–2010 period. Hispanic pop-
ulation is at once geographically widespread—occurring almost everywhere—but
1 3
A Demographic Lifeline? Immigration andHispanic Population…
also highly concentrated in Hispanic boomtowns that emerged in response to eco-
nomic restructuring. The concentration of low-wage, low-skill Hispanic workers in
the meatpacking industry is a clear case in point (Jensen and Yang 2016; Krumel
2017). Latinos have also responded with their feet to the recent boom in oil and gas
(e.g., fracking in North Dakota or Pennsylvania), to changes in industrial agriculture
and the dairy industry, to job opportunities in textile mills and furniture (e.g., in
North Carolina), and to tourism and the labor demands in the hospitality industry
(Broadway 2007; Winders 2005).
Whether new Hispanic growth has reversed the trajectory of declining small town
America is unclear. One hypothesis is that Hispanics may be a catalyst for growth,
replenishing—even replacing—the native population in depopulating or dying small
towns. In this demographic scenario, Hispanics might appropriately be regarded as
providing a demographic lifeline to rural America (Carr et al. 2012). An alterna-
tive hypothesis is that new in-migration and growth of Latinos may simply reflect
the labor demands of local rural areas that are already economically prosperous and
growing. In this case, Hispanic in-migration may simply be a demographic response
to local economic growth and employment opportunities rather than be responsi-
ble for a population turnaround. Indeed, most Hispanic population gains may be in
growing and economically prosperous communities, reinforcing rather than reviv-
ing growth. A final hypothesis—a less optimistic one—is that Hispanic growth
could result in little if any population growth or perhaps even in population declines.
This would occur if Hispanic in-migration and growth acted to displace the native
white population (Lichter etal. 2018). Local area white natives may respond to the
“threat” of Latino growth by outmigrating, leaving behind a community that is little
different in population size but much different in racial composition. In this demo-
graphic scenario, Hispanic growth is counterbalanced by racially motivated “white
flight” (see Lichter etal. 2018) or by other demographic or economic changes, such
as increasing housing prices, rising property or school taxes, or real or perceived
increases in crime rates (Crowley and Ebert 2014; Crowley and Lichter 2009; Mayer
etal. 2018).
Rural in-migrants today are overrepresented among Hispanics of prime repro-
ductive age. Their fertility rates have exceeded the national average historically
(Lichter etal 2012) and, until recently, were well above replacement levels (Ely and
Hamilton 2018; see Parrado 2011) for excellentdiscussion of methodological chal-
lenges in tracking generational differences in fertility). Natural increase—high fertil-
ity, low mortality—provides a large and often unappreciated second-order effect of
recent Hispanic in-migration; it sustains population growth over time among suc-
ceeding generations. Conversely, rural outmigration has been over-representative
of native-born whites historically, which has contributed to rapid population aging
and natural decrease in nonmetropolitan America. Thus, the growth of the Hispanic
population, both from in-migration and natural increase, can make the difference
between overall county population growth and population decline. This can be espe-
cially important for today’s depopulating counties with limited prospects for endog-
enous population or economic growth. Hispanic in-migration and natural increase
are now working in demographic tandem to ensure short- and long-term population
growth. Hispanic fertility feeds the demographic pipeline of young people who will
D.T.Lichter, K.M.Johnson
1 3
ultimately replace today’s elderly natives and insure long-term growth and economic
vitality for the community.
Current Study
Hispanics today are redrawing America’s rural settlement system in the current
period of widespread rural population decline. Can Hispanics save rural and small
town America? Have Hispanic sparked new population growth in rural areas of
chronic outmigration, providing a demographic lifeline? As we have argued here,
contrasting overall patterns of population growth among Hispanics and the non-His-
panic population are seemingly working at demographic cross-purposes. Or, alterna-
tively, are they working in demographic tandem, each serving to reinforce ongoing
patterns of growth and decline across America’s demographically diverse nonme-
tropolitan counties? These are important questions because in-migration is highly
selective of young adults, which acts to slow population aging while giving demo-
graphic impetus to a sustainable future. The long-term implications for rural Amer-
ica are unclear. And this lack of clarity impedes effective public policy responses
and appropriate rural development strategies that can best insure the future of
declining rural and small town America.
Methods
Data andMeasurement
Our analyses are based on U.S. counties as the unit of analysis. Counties (or county
equivalents in New England) are spatially inclusive of all territory in the United
States. They also provide historically stable boundaries that are well suited for our
analytical purposes. Counties—all 3141 of them—provide a basic unit for report-
ing population size and composition over time. Data on the components of over-
all population change—fertility, mortality, and net migration—are also available at
the county level. Our analyses arerestricted to the continental United States, where
most Hispanic native and foreign-born population currently reside. Data for Alaska
and Hawaii are compromised by changes in county boundaries and by limitations in
the coverage of historical data on racial and ethnic groups.
We focus primarily on Hispanic population increases for three periods:
1990–2000, 2000–2010, and 2010–2017. For 1990, 2000, and 2010, we draw on
county population counts from the decennial Censuses, as well as historical data
on births, deaths and migration from the integrated age-specific net migration files
developed for the 1990s (Voss etal. 2005) and 2000s (Winkler etal. 2013; Johnson
and Winkler 2015). Comparable population data for the 2010–2017 period from the
Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Series, and from special tabulations from the
Center for Disease Control on annual births and deaths at the county level. Estimates
of net migration are derived by the residual method; net migration is what is left
when natural increase (births minus deaths) is subtracted from the total population
1 3
A Demographic Lifeline? Immigration andHispanic Population…
change. These detailed data set the stage for our analyses and discussion of compar-
ative population change among Latinos, who have uniformly high and positive rates
of net migration and natural increase over the study period (Johnson and Lichter
2016).
Counties are classified by metropolitan status as defined by the U.S. Office of
Management and Budget (OMB). We use a constant 2013 definition of metropolitan
and nonmetropolitan throughout our analyses (Fuguitt etal. 1988).3 We thus focus
on nonmetropolitan counties classified as such today and then track trajectories of
growth and decline during the proceeding decades.4 For ease of exposition, we use
the terms nonmetropolitan and rural interchangeably, as we do the terms metropoli-
tan and urban.
Analytical Approach
Much of our analyses is descriptive. We first provide a national baseline of changing
patterns of metropolitan and nonmetropolitan population change, natural increase,
and net migration rates over the study period, which we then contrast with new
population growth patterns among America’s Hispanics since 1990. Patterns among
Latinos diverge sharply from national patterns of population decline.
Second, we contrast Hispanic and non-Hispanic population growth over the
1990-to-2017 period, focusing on the share of nonmetropolitan growth due to His-
panics. We also distinguish between depopulating nonmetropolitan counties, other
declining counties, and growing counties. For our purposes, depopulation is defined
following the procedures of Johnson and Lichter (2019). Nationally, we classify 746
counties representing 24 percent of the U.S. total as depopulating counties. These
counties peaked in population size by 1950 and lost at least 25 percent from its peak
population by 2010. By any measure, this is substantial depopulation. An additional
824 counties (26.5 percent) experienced population losses of less than 25 percent
from peak or first experienced population loss after 1950. The remaining 1539 coun-
ties (49.5 percent) peaked in population in 2010, at the time of the last decennial
census. Our goal is to evaluate whether Hispanic growth has shifted the trajectories
of growth and decline in counties with very different histories of population change.
Third, and finally, we highlight the geographic reach of Hispanic population
growth since 1990. This is important because a national portrait of the growth-pro-
ducing effects of Hispanics on the nonmetropolitan population could result in mis-
leading conclusions. This would be the case if most Hispanic growth occurred in
3 After every decennial census, the universe of metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties is updated
to reflect country population growth over the proceeding decade. Our analysis is based on the same uni-
verse of nonmetropolitan counties throughout the 1990–2017 study period.
4 Several hundred counties that would have been classified as nonmetropolitan under previous OMB
definitions are included among metropolitan areas here. Reclassification has, over the course of several
decades, removed many fast growing counties from the universe of nonmetropolitan counties and reclas-
sified them as metropolitan. Our goal is to keep the focus squarely on today’s nonmetropolitan counties
and the historically demographic processes that underlay recent trajectories of population growth and
decline.
D.T.Lichter, K.M.Johnson
1 3
already growing counties, i.e., if Hispanic and overall growth mimicked each other.
Hispanic in-migration and growth could also be negatively associated with overall
(or white) in-migration and growth. In this case, Hispanics may displace or replace
population with little effect on overall population size.
Findings
Hispanic Growth inContext ofNonmetropolitan Population Decline
As an empirical baseline, Fig. 1 provides evidence of rapid metropolitan growth
since 1990 and slow growth or population declines in nonmetropolitan America
over the past three decades. This conclusion is clearly indicated in the trends in
metropolitan and nonmetropolitan population growth. Each decade, average annual
metropolitan population growth rates greatly exceeded nonmetropolitan population
growth rates. Average annual growth rates have declined over time in both metropol-
itan and nonmetropolitan areas. The key point, however, is that the nonmetropolitan
population—for the first time ever—experienced negative growth or depopulation,
losing nearly 0.15 percent of its population each year during the post-2010 period.
Metropolitan counties overall continued to increase over the past decade by nearly 1
percent annually. Urbanization continues apace, exacerbated by unprecedented rural
population declines since 2010.
To better understand the underlying demographic dynamics of overall population
change, we also consider changes in natural increase and net migration since 1990.
-0.25
0
0.25
0.5
0.75
1
1.25
1.5
NonMetro MetroNonMetroMetro NonMetro Metro
Average Annual Percent Change
Populaon Change Natural Increase Net Migraon
1990 to 2000 2000 to 2010 2010 to 2017
Fig. 1 Demographic change by metropolitan status, 1990–2017
1 3
A Demographic Lifeline? Immigration andHispanic Population…
The downward trajectories of overall population growth and, ultimately, depopu-
lation in nonmetropolitan are clearly revealed in natural decrease and net outmi-
gration. The important point is that natural increase has become an increasingly
important component of nonmetropolitan population change over the past three
decades. For nonmetropolitan areas, net migration exceeded natural increase during
the 1990s, but the slowdown in net migration (often from immigration rather than
domestic net migration) meant that natural increase represented the largest compo-
nent of nonmetropolitan population growth. After 2010, net migration rates were
negative—outmigration exceeded in-migration; low and declining rates of natural
increase could no longer counterbalance the exodus of people from rural areas.
These analyses indicate thatthe last three decades of Hispanic population growth
clearly has not prevented the overall downward spiral in the nation’s rural popula-
tion. As shown in Fig.2, Latinos accounted for the majority share—over 60 per-
cent—of overall nonmetropolitan population growth over the 1990–2017 study
period. The total rural population grew by roughly 150,000 each year over the entire
study period. Of this total, the Hispanic rural population was responsible for the
addition of nearly 85,000 persons annually. Without Hispanics, the modest overall
growth in nonmetropolitan areas since 1990 would have been much slower.
Absolute population decline or depopulation became the demographic norm after
2010. Figure3 shows that the downward trend in population growth—and ultimately
depopulation after 2010—was due entirely to population losses among whites and
other non-Hispanics. Between 2010 and 2017, nonmetropolitan areas lost nearly
100,000 people each year. For Hispanics, growth slowed considerably during the
post-2010 period, when a little over 50,000 Hispanics were added to the nonmet-
ropolitan population each year. Hispanic growth was insufficient to fully offset the
-100,000
-50,000
0
50,000
100,000
150,000
200,000
Average Annual Change
Total Population Change Non-Hispanic Population Change Hispanic Population Change
Fig. 2 Nonmetropolitan Hispanic and non-Hispanic population change, 1990–2017
D.T.Lichter, K.M.Johnson
1 3
large population declines among non-Hispanics and, as result, nonmetropolitan
areas lost overall population after 2010 for the first time ever.
Hispanics asaDemographic Lifeline
Whether Latinos have provided a demographic lifeline for rural America would
be indicated most clearly if Latinos growth occurred primarily in slow-growth or
depopulating counties rather than in growing counties. Some preliminary analysis
(not shown) clearly showed that Hispanics are overrepresented in growing rather
than in declining counties—both in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties.
Indeed, Hispanics in 2017 made up the highest percentage (over 20 percent) of the
population in growing metropolitan counties (as defined in the "Methods" section).
This contrasts with a low of only about 6 percent in the depopulating nonmetro-
politan counties. The presence of Latinos and overall population growth seems to go
hand-in-hand.
The data in Fig.4 (left-most vertical panel) indicate that most of the Hispanic
growth in nonmetropolitan areas over the 1990–2017 period, not surprisingly,
occurred in growing counties rather than lagging counties. The growth of both
Hispanics and non-Hispanics is jointly reinforcing overall county growth. For his-
torically depopulating and declining counties (based on peak populations in 1950
and subsequent population changes; see "Methods" section), population declined
-150,000
-100,000
-50,000
0
50,000
100,000
150,000
200,000
250,000
300,000
1990 to 20002000 to 2010 2010 to 2017
Annual Populaon Change
Total Population Non-Hispanic Hispanic
Fig. 3 Nonmetropolitan population change by Hispanic origin, 1990–2017
1 3
A Demographic Lifeline? Immigration andHispanic Population…
overall since 1990. In each case, overall population declines could be attributed
to declines in the non-Hispanic (mostly native-born white) population. And, even
though the Hispanic population grew in depopulating and declining counties, the
growth was not sufficient to fully offset overall non-Hispanic population losses.
To provide context to historical patterns, we replicated the preceding analy-
ses for the 2010–2017 period (right panel, Fig.4).These data revealed continuing
Hispanic population growth, but now during a period of overall nonmetropoli-
tan population decline. Hispanic growth was modest in comparison to the non-
Hispanic population losses, especially in counties of chronic decline. Despite
Hispanic growth, the downward population spiral in nonmetropolitan counties
accelerated after 2010. In growing counties, Latinos provided the large majority
of the population gain, highlighting an outsized demographic footprint in these
counties.
Indeed, the results in Table1 (second panel, bottom row) indicate that 9.8 per-
cent of all nonmetropolitan counties—an additional 192 counties—would have lost
population after 2010 without Hispanic growth. Despite overall population decline
in the 2010s, this is similar to patterns observed throughout the entire study period,
when 9.6 percent experienced Hispanic population gains at levels sufficient to offset
non-Hispanic losses (Table1). Over 60 percent of all nonmetropolitan counties (i.e.,
61.5 percent) experienced Hispanic population growth and non-Hispanic population
declines during 2010–2017. This figure is up substantially from overall patterns dur-
ing 1990–2017, when only about 40 percent of counties had Hispanic growth and
non-Hispanic decline.
-100,000
-50,000
0
50,000
100,000
150,000
200,000
DepopulationPopulation
Loss
Population
Gain
Depopulation Population
Loss
Population
Gain
Average Annual Change
Total Non-Hispanic Hispanic
1990 to 2017 2010 to 2017
Fig. 4 Nonmetropolitan Hispanic and non-Hispanic population change by depopulation status, 1990 to
2010 to and 2010 to 2017
D.T.Lichter, K.M.Johnson
1 3
For 2010–2017, about 25 percent of counties experienced growth of both His-
panics and non-Hispanics. And, as mentioned above, Hispanic annual population
increases in these counties typically exceeded gains from non-Hispanics (see Fig.4).
Only 5 percent of nonmetropolitan counties experienced both Hispanic and non-His-
panic population losses. These results reinforce a straightforward point: The growth
of Latinos is of critical importance today in the majority of America’s rural counties.
Finally, we disaggregate these analyses for each of the three historical types of
nonmetropolitan counties in our typology (depopulating, declining, and growing;
see Johnson and Lichter 2019). These data, reported in Table1 for the entire study
period and for the recent post-2010 period, reveal that the Hispanic population is
growing in historically depopulating and declining nonmetropolitan counties, but
that any gains are insufficient to fully offset non-Hispanic declines. From 2010 to
2017, for example, this pattern characterizes about three-fourths of these counties.
In contrast, fewer than 10 percent of historically depopulating and declining non-
metropolitan counties had sufficient Hispanic growth to turn decline into growth.
Among growing nonmetropolitan counties, the modal pattern (about 47 percent) is
one of Hispanic and non-Hispanic growth. An additional 13 percent of these grow-
ing counties had overall population gains only because Hispanic gains offset non-
Hispanic population loss.
For the entire study period, the large majority (89 percent) of counties with
demographic resilience (i.e., those not classified as depopulating or declining) expe-
rienced both Hispanic and non-Hispanic population increases. Significantly, for the
most recent period (post-2010), this figure was cut roughly in half (46.6 percent).
A remarkable share of historically resilient counties have shifted recently to overall
population decline, experiencing Hispanic growth but at levels insufficient to offset
non-Hispanic declines (36.8 percent). Indeed, for the 1990–2017 period, only 2.7
percent of these historically resilient counties experienced this pattern. One implica-
tion is that non-Hispanics are seemingly leaving these counties, perhaps in response
Table 1 Percent of nonmetropolitan counties by population change by Hispanic origin and depopulation
status, 1990 to 2017 and 2010 to 2017
Source: US Census 1990, 2000 and 2010, and Census Bureau Population Estimates for 2018
Population Loss- Population Loss- Population Gain- Population Gain
Hispanic Loss Hispanic Gain Hispanic Only
Population change 1990 to 2017
Depopulation 3.6 75.1 6.4 15.0
Population loss 2.2 50.7 14.7 32.4
Gain 0.0 2.7 8.3 89.0
Total 1.9 42.5 9.6 45.9
Population change 2010 to 2017
Depopulation 4.9 74.9 7.7 12.6
Population loss 6.0 74.3 8.8 10.8
Gain 3.7 36.8 12.9 46.6
Total 4.8 61.5 9.8 23.8
1 3
A Demographic Lifeline? Immigration andHispanic Population…
to Hispanic growth or simply because an aging population no longer supports con-
tinuing growth through natural increase.
The Geographic Reach ofHispanic Growth
Hispanic population gains have been geographically widespread, even in historically
depopulating or declining counties. Hispanics population gains were common in vir-
tually every region across the country. The county map in Fig.5 is inclusive of both
metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties, and distinguishes between comparative
patterns of Hispanic and non-Hispanic growth for the 2010–2017 period. Figure6 is
restricted to all nonmetropolitan counties.
In these maps, blue designates growing counties, with dark blue representing
counties that experienced both Hispanic and non-Hispanic growth and light blue
indicating Hispanic growth that was sufficient to offset non-Hispanic population
decline. These maps lead to several specific conclusions. First, the national county
map (Fig.5), when compared to the nonmetropolitan county map (Fig.6), reveals
substantially more blue (in light and dark shades), which indicates that both overall
population gains and Hispanic growth are especially widespread across America’s
metropolitan counties.
Second, the number and geographic spread of light blue counties is substantially
greater in the nonmetropolitan map (Fig. 6). This underscores the demographic
Fig. 5 Population change and Hispanic population change, 2010–2017
D.T.Lichter, K.M.Johnson
1 3
significance of Hispanics in nonmetropolitan counties as a demographic lifeline off-
setting population losses among non-Hispanics (mostly whites). In contrast, a com-
paratively small number of metropolitan counties depended entirely on Hispanic
gains to fuel overall growth. For most metropolitan counties, both Hispanic and non-
Hispanic populations contributed to population gains.
Third, these analyses reveal widespread population decline (i.e., as indicated by
shades of red). However, even where overall population loss is occurring, county
population declines usuallyoccurred along with Hispanic growth (see light share of
red). These counties dominated much of the agricultural heartland, Appalachia, the
industrial Northeastern rustbelt (from Ohio to Maine), and the southern Black Belt,
including the Mississippi Delta (where rural blacks are overrepresented). The point
seems clear: Latinos are increasing population in counties that have historically
depended on agriculture and other extractive industries. Population growth—both of
Hispanics and non-Hispanic—is much more prevalent in the West region, including
many parts of the Rocky Mountain region.
Discussion andConclusion
The state of rural America today is inextricably linked to two master demographic
trends: Chronic depopulation and new Hispanic immigration. Rural America has
experienced overall population loss, especially since 2010 (Johnson and Lichter
Fig. 6 Population change and Hispanic population change, in nonmetropolitan counties, 2010–2017
1 3
A Demographic Lifeline? Immigration andHispanic Population…
2019). At the same time, rural counties are experiencing unprecedented growth in
the immigrant population, especially from Mexico and other parts of Latin America
(Crowley and Ebert 2014). Whether these trends are working at cross-purposes is
unclear, especially in the post-recessionary period of slower growth in the immi-
grant population. Has Hispanic population growth provided a demographic lifeline
to nonmetropolitan counties experiencing chronic population decline? Or has new
Hispanic immigration, along with the secondary migration of their native-born off-
spring (i.e., the “new” second-generation), simply reinforced ongoing patterns of
population concentration in growing rural and small town America?
Our analyses of rural population trends since 1990 has provided a rather compli-
cated but important demographic portrait of recent growth and decline. Our results
suggest that new Hispanic growth has been spatially ubiquitous, occurring both
in declining and growing nonmetropolitan counties. Hispanic growth has clearly
slowed population declines overall in nonmetropolitan areas, even in a majority of
historically depopulating or declining counties. But Hispanic gains have not been
sufficient to reverse overall population declines in rural America. And this pattern
of Hispanic growth and non-Hispanic decline accelerated over time, especially in
historically resilient counties. The basic demographic facts are clear: The post-
2010 period has ushered in a new demographic era of overall depopulation caused
mostly by white depopulation. For the first time in U.S. demographic history, natural
increase (births in excess of deaths) was not sufficient to offset population losses
from net outmigration (see Fig.1). As a result, rural America declined in the aggre-
gate, despite the growth and widespread geographic spread of the Latino population.
It is significant that our analyses also revealed substantial heterogeneity across
U.S. counties in growth and decline processes, and in the demographic implica-
tions of recent Hispanic population increases. Indeed, nearly 200 nonmetropolitan
counties grew during the 2010–2017 period, but only because Hispanic population
increases exceeded non-Hispanic population declines. For these counties, which
account for about 10 percent of all nonmetropolitan counties, Hispanics clearly
provided a demographic lifeline. Hispanic population gains were far less likely to
reverse population declines in historically depopulating or declining counties. Most
Hispanic growth reinforced overall growth in counties that were also experienc-
ing growth of non-Hispanics. One implication seems clear: Latinos are attracted
to many of the same nonmetropolitan counties that have attracted other population
groups over the past half century. Hispanics reinforce the concentration of popu-
lation in rural counties that might best be regarded as demographic and economic
“winners” (see Lichter 2012). In some counties, there is evidence—incomplete so
far—that Hispanics may be partially replacing or displacing native-born whites or
other population groups in these growing areas. The modal pattern is one where
Hispanic population growth reflects and reinforces overall population growth, sug-
gesting that Hispanics have provided a demographic multiplier effect rather than a
lifeline.
Our results also suggest spatially divergent patterns of racial and ethnic integra-
tion and segregation. On the one hand, for growing rural areas, Hispanic growth
appears to provide a pathway to residential integration, which has been revealed in
increasing racial and ethnic diversity in rural America (Winkler and Johnson 2016;
D.T.Lichter, K.M.Johnson
1 3
Lee and Sharp 2017; Kritz and Gurak 2016). For many rural residents, population
growth has been accompanied by increasing exposure to new immigrant groups,
sometimes upending the existing social and economic order and raising new chal-
lenges for racial and ethnic harmony (Crowley and Knepper 2019; Lichter etal.
2016; Marrow 2020). On the other hand, in depopulating or declining rural com-
munities, the substantive and policy implications of Hispanic growth also are poten-
tially significant and worth considering in future research. Hispanic growth may
help revitalize some “dying” communities, but also may suggest a new kind of
macro-segregation where rural minorities are spatially isolated in poor communities
or “rural ghettos” with majority-minority populations (Lichter etal. 2018; Winkler
and Johnson2016).
Immigration is a politically fraught topic, especially as new immigrant popula-
tions have spread throughout the nation, from traditional urban gateways to less
densely settled rural areas. Recent declarations that “our country is full” have
heightened public concerns that the U.S. immigration system is overburdened with
refugees and undocumented workers (Fikri and Lettieri 2019). By almost any meas-
ure, rural America is instead “emptying out” from outmigration and rising mortality
(due to population aging). It is where just 14 percent of the U.S. population lives but
occupies 72 percent of the total land area. Effectively managing shrinking popula-
tionsis difficult (Peters etal. 2018). New Hispanic immigrants may not only revital-
ize rural economies, but keep schools, churches, and hospital open that otherwise
may have closed (Mathema etal. 2018). The benefits are not just economic. Some
rural states recognize the benefits of immigration for rural America, seeking to
attract Hispanics through media campaigns and direct recruitment in order to boost
growth and economic vitality (Carr etal. 2012). As in other countries (e.g., Canada,
Spain, and Australia), place-based or heartland visas have been proposed as a pos-
sible mechanism for revitalizing rural areas, by making entry into the United States
contingent on living in rural areas (Ozimek etal. 2019). Such visas would constitute
a voluntary pathway for entry into eligible host communities seeking to revitalize the
local economies with an infusion of human capital and skilled labor. The question is
whether new immigrants will put down roots in the community or, instead, whether
these new destinations will become revolving doors, distressed places where immi-
grants fulfill their residency requirements but then move on to otherareas.
In many ways, rural America is at a demographic turning point. Population
loss has accelerated since 2010, new immigration to rural areas has slowed, and
antipathy toward Hispanics or other immigrant populations, especially among
rural voters, seems to be on the rise. It is difficult to forecast the future or to effec-
tively manage population “shrinkage” and promote resilient communities (Peters
etal. 2018). What is clear is that Hispanic immigrant populations, as well as their
U.S. born children, will continue to play an outsized role in rural communities.
Indeed, the replacement of the baby boom generation over the next decade or
two with today’s majority-minority population of children and youth means that
immigration will remain on the public policy agenda. Hispanics have had a large
secondary demographic effect, both because immigrants of reproductive age are
over-represented in current rural migration streams and have high fertility rates
(Johnson and Lichter 2008; Lichter etal. 2012). This has occurred in tandem with
1 3
A Demographic Lifeline? Immigration andHispanic Population…
population aging and rising mortality among the native-born population. Even
with restrictive new legislation, the growth of immigrant minority populations
will continue as the U.S. moves toward a majority-minority society over the next
25years (Lichter 2013). Whether Latino migrants can curb unprecedented rural
population declines remains an open question in the rapidly changing economic,
social and political climate.
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Aliations
DanielT.Lichter1 · KennethM.Johnson2
Kenneth M. Johnson
Ken.Johnson@unh.edu
1 Departments ofPolicy Analysis andManagement & Sociology, Cornell University, Ithaca,
NY14853, USA
2 Department ofSociology andCarsey School ofPublic Policy, University ofNew Hampshire,
Durham, NH03824, USA
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Rural-urban classifications are essential for analyzing geographic, demographic, environmental, and social processes across the rural-urban continuum. Most existing classifications are, however, only available at relatively aggregated spatial scales, such as at the county scale in the United States. The absence of rurality or urbanness measures at high spatial resolution poses significant problems when the process of interest is highly localized, as with the incorporation of rural towns and villages into encroaching metropolitan areas. Moreover, existing rural-urban classifications are often inconsistent over time, or require complex, multi-source input data (e.g., remote sensing observations or road network data), thus, prohibiting the longitudinal analysis of rural-urban dynamics. Here, we develop a set of distance- and spatial-network-based methods for consistently estimating the remoteness and rurality of places at fine spatial resolution, over long periods of time. We demonstrate the utility of our approach by constructing indices of urbanness for 30,000 places in the United States from 1930 to 2018 and further test the plausibility of our results against a variety of evaluation datasets. We call these indices the place-level urban-rural index (PLURAL) and make the resulting datasets publicly available (https://doi.org/10.3886/E162941) so that other researchers can conduct long-term, fine-grained analyses of urban and rural change. In addition, due to the simplistic nature of the input data, these methods can be generalized to other time periods or regions of the world, particularly to data-scarce environments.
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This analysis seeks to understand why some small towns have improved quality of life (QoL) over the past 20 years despite sizable population losses. Using a longitudinal data set of small towns in Iowa collected every 10 years since 1994, I measure the resiliency or vulnerability of declining towns based on change in subjective QoL, and then model the socioeconomic correlates along a resilient‐decline index. Community resiliency is enhanced by the process of creating bridging social capital, not the quantity available for use. By contrast, the quantity of both internal and external linking social capital promotes resiliency by linking residents to local and outside power structures, but the growth of these linkages has no impact. Bonding social capital indirectly helps resiliency by increasing internal linkages that foster local participation, but hinders it by decreasing external ones that limit access to outside resources. Jobs in goods‐producing industries like manufacturing directly promote resiliency by providing more secure employment, plus indirectly promote it by increasing bridging ties and external linkages. Growing poverty and income disparities make declining places more vulnerable by reducing QoL and external linkages. I discuss local strategies promoting resiliency and QoL.
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Rapid economic, demographic and social change in America's new Latino destinations has generated concerns about changing quality of life in rural communities. Findings from prior research suggest that the arrival of socioeconomically vulnerable newcomers may undermine demographic foundations of community engagement, and that heterogeneity, segregation, race/ethnic tension, and rising income inequality may reduce aggregate engagement in local affairs. Research on new Latino destinations, however, points to unique attributes of newcomers that may offset these challenges or even enhance community life. In this study, we investigate changes in demographic foundations for participation, community revitalization and shifts in economic, civic and political activity in new nonmetropolitan Latino destinations over the 1990s and 2000s. Using data from the Census of Population, American Community Survey, County Business Patterns, Census of Religion, and voting records, and controlling for relevant county attributes, we compare trajectories of counties that received large numbers of Latinos after 1990 to similar counties that did not experience rapid Latino growth. Difference-in-difference regression analyses reveal that despite erosion of foundations for participation, most notably education, economic well-being and English-language proficiency, Latino influxes have helped to revitalize new destination communities and promoted economic activity conducive to community engagement. Contrary to claims that individuals in more diverse environments withdraw from community life and “hunker down” at home (Putnam 2007), we find no evidence that diversification has reduced community participation; instead, residents of new communities have become more civically and politically engaged.
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This article examines the individual and economic context correlates of foreign‐born dispersion in the 2007–2011 period using confidential American Community Surveys and census data. For 40 national origin groups and other foreigners from 7 world regions, group‐specific settlement indicators for 741 geographic areas were used to estimate dispersion relationships to human capital, acculturation, settlement region, and economic context. A fixed‐effect model estimated with individual indicators, net of national origin, indicated that human capital and acculturation had relationships to dispersion that conformed to human capital and spatial assimilation theories but found that those relationships were attenuated or no longer significant after controlling for economic context. Individual and economic context correlates of dispersion also differed for Mexicans and non‐Mexicans. For both groups, the economic context measures that had the strongest relationships to dispersion were labour force shares in education/research/technology fields, and native‐born employment change between 1990 and 2000. Employment in agriculture and the military were significant for both Mexicans and non‐Mexicans but shares employed in manufacturing and construction were only significant for non‐Mexicans. Ordinary least squares (OLS) models for 40 origin countries indicated that internal migration status, residence in a household with a native‐born head, never married status, and English language fluency were significant correlates of dispersion for most groups. Having an advanced degree was also significantly related to dispersion for over half of the groups. Future studies should focus on the linkages between immigration histories and immigrants' human capital and how they shape the dispersion pathways that national origin groups take to different economic contexts.