After years of decline, rural America — including NH — grew during the pandemic
Rural America is growing for the first time in a decade, driven in large part by migration during the pandemic to recreational and retirement communities.
An analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire shows migration gains in nearly 60 percent of rural counties from 2020 to 2022. But while migration led to an overall increase in the country’s rural population, the majority of rural counties still lost population.
A map of population trends shows just how uneven this growth was in the Past few years: For instance, many agricultural communities in the South and Midwest continued to shrink, while other areas — such as parts of rural New Hampshire and Maine — saw a boost during the pandemic. In New Hampshire, Carroll County received the largest influx of newcomers during this time. This growth is in spite of deaths outnumbering births in the vast majority of rural counties, and a spike in deaths due to COVID-19.
“It was a little surprising that we would have population growth,” says UNH demographer Kenneth Johnson, who authored the research brief.
It’s unclear if these demographic shifts will be permanent, Johnson said.
“A big question of this is: How much of this migration to rural areas is going to be real, and how much of it is temporary … due to COVID’s increased flexibility in where you can work from?” Johnson adds.
Johnson says that rural communities will need to monitor population trends to plan for potential infrastructure needs, particularly in healthcare and elder care systems.