Putting the Boy Back in the Country

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Population Shift to Rural Counties Still Going Strong

John Denver said it in the 70’s, and it appears the pull to be a country boy has come back around. Population growth is booming in rural America.

While the pandemic caused many to rethink their work life, a new trend also emerged. A demographic shift from metropolitan areas to rural counties surged during the pandemic, and the pattern shows no signs of slowdown yet.

For the first time in thirty years, the population in non-metro areas outpaced urban population growth, and the increase continued. The top ten counties seeing the largest expansions were all located outside a large city – the best of both worlds it seems.

But not everyone is as thrilled about the migration as the new neighbors. Housing prices, average rents, and even farmland prices have increased dramatically. Locals resent the increased traffic and strain on existing schools, with small town infrastructures not equipped to handle the sudden growth – growth they want no part of and were living here to avoid.

Finding affordable housing just got a lot harder in Jackson County, Georgia, where prices rose 50 percent in the first half of 2023, according to Zillow. Rents in parts of North Carolina, Montana, and Utah increased from 13 to 24 percent in the past two years – all areas in the top ten growth sector.

The influx is also sparking political disparity. Locals can be seen sporting bumper stickers that say, “Montana’s Full” or “Don’t California my Montana.” The eclectic demographics obscure the potential political outcomes of battleground states. Maggie Doherty, writer and columnist in Flathead County, Montana, confirms, “There’s a lot of resentment.”

Bonner County, Idaho has seen its share of California transplants answering the siren call of its golfing amenities and ski resorts. “Retiring in California is near impossible,” laments Bob Ficken. “The state ends up taking between 25% and 30% of everything you make.” He left San Francisco to spend his golden years in Sandpoint, Idaho.

The onset of work-from-home opportunity further fuels migration. When there’s no commute to consider, one can enjoy life in rural America while being gainfully employed.

The irony is raised in the question, what will these rural areas look like if rampant population growth continues? Will the sought after lifestyle be suffocated by its throngs of new residents? How will small town municipalities cope with the influx? Keep reading here.

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