Americans still seek country life despite escalating gas prices

Whan Anthony Vuckson retired in 1978 he left his home near Trenton, N.J.., And moved to rural Florida. What makes his decision noteworthy is that Mr. Vuckson was one of many who made population experts change their minds.

It had been assumded that continually rising gasoline prices would slow down a trend first detected in the early 1970s -- faster growth outside metropolitan areas than in them.

Now the US Census Bureau has updated its rural-trend studies. The main finding: The desire to leave the cities is stronger than the concern over higher gas prices. In fact, the movement out of the cities appears to have preceded up since 1974.

And it is not just a move to the suburbs. Rural countries not adjacent to an urban one are growing faster than urban counties.

"The gas crisis and gas prices had nothing to do with my moving down South," says Vuckson. He was seeking a warm climate.

But Florida has a lot of warm cities, too. What really lured Vuckson to Citrus County -- a rapidly growing rural area -- was his son-in-law's decision to move into the same county when he retired from a military post overseas.

Job transfers and job seeking are the main reasons people are moving to nonmetropolitan counties near metropolitan ones, according to the Census Bureau. But persons moving to rural counties not near urban ones do so for a variety of reasons. Some are retirement, to be closer to other family members, and the desire to own their own home or a larger home.

As for the assumption that rural employees have to use more gas to get to work, it apparently is wrong. A study by the US Department of Agriculture shows rural workers commute, on the average, about three miles less than than their urban counterparts.

And rural workers car-pool more than city workers (21 percent compared with 17 percent), the USDA study shows.

Thr Census Bureau uses a definition of a metropolitan county as one with a population center of at least 50,000.

Ironically, as more people move into rural counties, some of the areas become urbanized. This is especially true of counties adjacent to large cities. Because of this reclassification, the percent of the US population living in metropolitan areas actually rose from 69 in 1970 to 73.5 in 1978, the census study shows.

But rural areas are growing faster in terms of percentage. This reverses the historical trend of urban areas growing faster both in terms of numbers and percentages.

Between 1974 and 1978, urban counties grew by some 2.6 percent, while rural ones grew nearly twice as fast.

How long will the rural trend continue? "Well into the '80s, barring some cataclysmic evet," predicts the Census Bureau's Larry Long, co-author with Diana DeAre of the rual trend update study.

Calvin Beale, director of population studies for the USDA, says gas shortages , rather than higher prices,j might curb the rural growth trend.

Both he and Dr. Long point out that 1980 census data is not yet complete and may affect the bureau's findins on rural growth. But no one expects any major surprises.

Lower birthrates nationally are slowing down the growth of both cities and rural areas. But population growth has fallen the most in the cities.

Some of the fastest growing rural areas are in Idaho, Utah, Montana, the Ozarks (Missouri and Arkansas), and Florida.

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