America’s rural population is on the upswing, but the growth is concentrated in retirement areas or regions with meatpacking plants and other forms of agricultural processing that rely on Hispanics and other immigrants for labor, USDA’s Economic Research Service says. The rural population grew by 33,000 between July 2016 and July 2017 after six straight years of loss, according to an annual ERS report. The growth is all due to an increase in net migration, which offset the impact of a declining birth rate and aging population. Some 1,100 rural counties, or 58 percent of the nation's rural counties, have shown positive changes in net immigration since 2013, including 485 counties that have switched from net out-migration to net in-migration. Counties where more people moved in more than out since 2013 include scenic areas such as the southern Appalachians, the Ozarks, and the Hill Country of central Texas that are magnets for retirees. Declines in net immigration are mostly in low-density, remote areas and high-poverty regions, as well as regions, including eastern Kentucky and West Virginia that were hit hard by the opioid epidemic. Food processing has been one of the drivers of growth, especially in the Midwest and Southeast, "related primarily to meatpacking and other low-skill, low-wage manufacturing concerns,” said ERS economist John Cromartie. There also is a demand for service workers in retirement areas, he said. Hispanics are the fastest growing segment but make up just 9 percent of the rural population, compared with 20 percent in urban areas, Cromartie said. Whites account for 80 percent of the rural population, compared with 58 percent of the urban population.
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