GOP must make a move as small-town America loses population

The U.S. population shifted away from small towns and toward major metropolitan areas from 2012 to 2013, according to data released by the Census Bureau on Thursday. The annual Census report is a reminder that the Republican Party, which has been doing worse and worse in big cities, needs to move toward some kind of “cosmopolitan conservatism.” That’s an easy phrase; the tough part is figuring out whether it means policy changes or more sophisticated marketing (see the “hipster Republican,” at right, from the party's new advertising campaign).

Marc Perry, writing for the Census Bureau’s official blog, notes that the percentage of Americans living in metropolitan areas rose from 85.3 percent to 85.4 percent last year. The population in these metro areas — which include “urban cores” of at least 50,000 people and surrounding commuter counties — rose by 2.3 million. The total population of “micro areas,” which have core cities of between 10,000 and 50,000 people, rose by only 8,000. The rest of the U.S. lost 35,000 people.

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Among metropolitan areas, Houston (+137,692), New York (+111,749), and Dallas (+108,112) added the most people last year.

The biggest losses were in Youngstown, Ohio (-2,989), Clarksville, Tennessee (-2,502), and Flint, Michigan (-2,405).

The fastest-growing metro area was The Villages, in Florida (up 5.2 percent, to a new total of 107,056), followed by Midland and Odessa, both in Texas and both up by 3.3 percent. The fastest delines were in Sierra Vista, Arizona (down 1.7 percent), Pine Bluff, Arkansas (down 1.6 percent), and Farmington, New Mexico (down 1.4 percent)

Overall, the U.S. population rose by 0.7 percent last year, but nearly half of all counties (1,533 out of 3,143) lost residents. Population declines were predominant in less urban areas. Among the 978 counties with at least 50,000 people, only 276 lost population. But among the nation's 2,165 smaller counties, 1,258 lost people over the one-year period.

The map below shows rates of population gain or loss by county, with green indicating growth and pink or purple indicating decline. Counties with jobs in mining, and in the oil and natural gas industries, bucked the trend of rural counties losing residents (see North Dakota and Texas). In contrast, the eastern half of the U.S. is a sea of pink and purple outside of major cities.

A close-up of the northeast quadrant shows the declining power of upstate New York, downstate Illinois, and western Pennsylvania relative to the New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia areas.

Image from Republican National Committee commercial. Maps from U.S. Census Bureau.

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