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States with the biggest rural populations

  • #20. Missouri

    - 2010 rural population: 29.6% of state (48.8% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 33.4% (#19 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 57.7% (#19 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 26.6 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 97.0%

    The rural stronghold of Missouri is experiencing the same dynamic that exists in virtually all of America—migration to the city at the expense of the country. Over the next 30 years, all 10 of the state's fastest-growing counties will be metropolitan. The governor recently proposed spending $5 million to expand broadband access to the 10 school districts and several full communities that don't yet have high-speed Internet.

  • #19. Wisconsin

    - 2010 rural population: 29.9% of state (47.6% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 36.2% (#22 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 57.0% (#17 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 32.5 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 96.5%

    Wisconsin is home to 12 urban centers and America's #31 largest city, but the image of the state often seems dominated by its dairy farms. That's not just cheese industry marketing. According to a recent report by the National League of Cities, rural and urban Wisconsin are economic partners. Cheese and Harley-Davidson motorcycles are built in the country—the Harley plant is in Tomahawk, population: 3,335—and shipped to the cities, but the cities build the farm equipment and run the distribution centers that keep rural Wisconsin alive.  

  • #18. Tennessee

    - 2010 rural population: 33.6% of state (57.9% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 47.7% (#14 highest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 79.8% (#13 highest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 55.6 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 93.0%

    About one in three Tennesseans are still living in rural communities, but that number is likely to fall with the coming generation. While the state as a whole is slated to gain 1.2 million residents in the next 20 years, virtually all of that will be in the more prosperous and urban eastern and middle Tennessee regions. According to USA Today, if rural western Tennessee were its own state, it would be losing residents faster than almost any state in America.

  • #17. South Carolina

    - 2010 rural population: 33.7% of state (60.5% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 58.8% (#8 highest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 85.2% (#8 highest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 56.3 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 92.1%

    The 2008 recession forced a dramatic shift in South Carolina demographics and deepened the Palmetto State's urban-rural divide. According to the Post and Courier, the most prosperous areas in the state—those clustered around the major urban centers of Myrtle Beach, Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston—have rebounded so thoroughly from the financial crisis that many employers are struggling to fill job openings. Recovery never made it to most of the rural counties, however, and now a full 30% of South Carolinians live in distressed communities compared to 15% in the average state.

  • #16. Oklahoma

    - 2010 rural population: 33.8% of state (58.2% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 37.1% (#24 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 80.8% (#12 highest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 18.8 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 98.1%

    Only Jacksonville, Fla., is bigger geographically than the 621-square-mile behemoth that is Oklahoma City. For decades, the city's metropolitan region has expanded so significantly that city leaders are now acting to slow or even stop urban sprawl. As Oklahoma City continued to bloat, however, the state's rural communities have been losing residents as part of the state's urban migration.

  • #15. North Carolina

    - 2010 rural population: 33.9% of state (60.4% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 60.5% (#7 highest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 85.6% (#7 highest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 73.5 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 90.5%

    The Seahawk recently released a report titled: "Declining Carolina: The up-and-coming ghost towns of North Carolina." It revealed that 225 of the state's 553 municipalities—a full 41%—experienced a decline in population between 2010–2016. Still, the state population surpassed 10 million people in 2015 thanks to a huge increase in residents. The net gain is almost entirely in the prosperous urban centers, where median pay is often more than double that of rural counties.   

  • #14. Alaska

    - 2010 rural population: 34.0% of state (62.5% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 62.1% (#3 highest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 90.5% (#1 highest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 0.4 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 100.0%

    Every square inch of land in Alaska is classified as rural, yet around two-thirds of the state's population lives outside of rural communities. Alaska is one of the few states where the overall population is declining. For the last two consecutive years, the state lost residents, virtually all of whom fled in search of jobs as the state's unemployment rate topped 6% for both of those years, compared with a national average of 3.7%.

  • #13. Wyoming

    - 2010 rural population: 35.2% of state (49.9% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 43.2% (#20 highest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 70.4% (#23 highest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 2 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 99.8%

    According to a report by the Casper Star-Tribune, it's hard to differentiate terms like "rural" and "small town" in Wyoming, a state with fewer than 600,000 residents—the least populous in the country. That's because the on-again, off-again oil boom has driven population growth that could be perceived as extensions of cities like Casper or could be considered tiny new rural outposts. In other cases, small Wyoming towns are just over or under the 2,500-population criteria set by the U.S. Census.

  • #12. Iowa

    - 2010 rural population: 36.0% of state (48.2% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 47.0% (#15 highest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 69.4% (#25 highest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 20 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 98.3%

    According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, 2017 marked three straight decades of population growth in Iowa, although it hasn't grown as much as most of its neighbors or the country as a whole. The rural-to-urban migration trend holds true there but not for the same reasons as in much of the Midwest. In Iowa, changes in racial and ethnic demographics have bolstered the cities as much as wages or economics. Since 2000, Hispanic, Asian, and African-American populations have grown by 116.6%, 100.8%, and 77.9% respectively.

  • #11. New Hampshire

    - 2010 rural population: 39.7% of state (17.6% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 41.7% (#21 highest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 48.2% (#10 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 62.9 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 92.8%

    In New Hampshire, the urban areas are concentrated in the southeast near the Boston Metro. The rural strongholds are in the western part of the state near Vermont and in the north by Maine and Canada. The four biggest counties account for 72% of the population. The rest of the state's residents are scattered across the remaining six rural counties.  

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