New residents from foreign countries were the bright spot in rural America’s population picture from 2010 to 2019. Without them, rural counties would have lost more than half a million residents. Instead, they lost only 200,000.

Who will President Trump’s order halting all international migration into the United States hurt the most?

President Trump announced that he would suspend immigration to the U.S. for 60 days. That cut-off presents us with an opportunity to ask which parts of the country would be most affected by an end to international migration.

The short answer is rural America. Rural counties have lost population overall in the last 10 years, but those losses would have much greater had there not been gains from international migration.

From 2010-19, the population in nonmetropolitan counties dropped by 207,000. If not for people moving to nonmetropolitan counties from other countries, rural counties would have lost more than half a million in population.

In other words, rural America’s population decline would have been 2.5 times worse if not for immigrants. Schools would have had fewer students. Shops would have had fewer customers. And local economies would have had fewer workers.


Look at the map above to see which rural counties have benefited from international migration in the last decade. The counties in dark green would have had an absolute loss in population had it not been for people moving there from other countries. In these counties, enough people moved in from other countries to offset losses from deaths and people who moved out to other locales in the country.

The counties in light green lost population, but the loss would have been larger had there not been a net increase from international migrants. In rural America, 57 percent of counties either had enough international migration to prevent a population loss in the last decade, or international migration softened the losses.

To be clear, there are two major components of population change. One is natural increase, the difference between births and deaths. The other is migration, the net difference between people who move into a county and those who move out.

We’ve broken down migration into two pieces. The first is domestic migration, the movement within the country. The second is international migration, the net difference between those who move into a place from another country minus those who move out to another country.

If you click on your county, you can see all of these components of population change over the last decade. In particular, you can see how much of your population change in the last decade came from people moving there from another country. (We included this information for all U.S. counties, so click at will.)

Odds are international migrants helped maintain your local population levels. Only 320 rural counties out of 1,977 had more people move out to another country than move in over the decade. Those counties are in red. And those negative numbers were small, averaging a loss of 29 people in each county to international migration.

In a quarter of rural counties, international migration was positive, but natural increases or domestic migration had a larger impact on total population change in the decade. Those rural counties are colored green.

Here are charts showing the aggregate components of population change in rural counties over the last decade. The first chart shows non-metropolitan (rural) counties that are adjacent to cities.

In the last decade, these counties saw their total population drop by 104,078 people. Why? Because more people moved out of these counties to live in another part of the country than moved in. That’s domestic migration. The net of all that coming and going was a loss of 396,022 people.

There were 105,133 more births than deaths. That’s natural increase, and that gain helped stabilize the population. But the major population gain for these counties came from people who moved there from other countries. These rural counties gained 189,282 people through international migration.

OK, let’s look at the most rural counties, those that don’t touch any metropolitan area.

The net out-migration in these counties was even more severe in the last decade, with a 406,228-person loss in people moving to other counties. Again, there were more births than deaths, which increased the population of these counties by 168,892 people. And international migration added 125,864 people to these counties.

The largest contributor to rural population in the last 10 years has been international migration.

In a country where everything, it seems, is political, we wondered how rural counties with different levels of international migration voted in 2016. Rural counties gave Donald Trump 62.4 percent of the vote. In the 320 counties that would have lost population had it not been for international migration, Trump received 58 percent of the vote.

In the 1,037 counties where international migration stemmed losses, the vote for the Republican was 63 percent in 2016, or about the rural average.

This article was originally published by the Daily Yonder. 

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