Census: Rural America shrinks as people flock to big cities

The number of Americans who live in rural areas continued to shrink in the last decade while the nation’s largest cities grew substantially, according to new data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Fewer than half of the 3,143 counties in the United States added population over the last decade, the new census data shows. The share of Americans who live in nonmetropolitan rural areas dropped by 2.8 percentage points, the Bureau said Thursday.

As of April 2020, just more than 86 percent of Americans live in metropolitan areas, counties that include or are adjacent to major cities with populations of 50,000 or more, an all-time high.

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About 4 in 5 metropolitan areas grew over the last decade, including all 10 of the nation’s largest cities. 

For the first time in American history, those 10 largest cities — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose — held more than a million residents. 

New York remains by far the largest city in the nation, with 8.8 million residents, up 7.7 percent from the decade before. Phoenix, which grew by 11 percent in the last decade, surpassed Philadelphia to become America’s fifth-largest city. 

Five other metropolitan areas, which include suburbs and exurban areas outside of city limits, expanded to more than a million residents: Grand Rapids, Mich.; Tucson, Ariz.; Honolulu; Tulsa, Okla.; and Fresno, Calif. 

Counties that include Houston, Phoenix, Seattle, Las Vegas and Dallas all added more than 300,000 residents in the last decade.  

The data, collected beginning in April last year, does not include anyone who moved during the vast majority of the coronavirus pandemic.