Rural Population on Rise

RURAL population in the US is increasing, according to a new study by the Agriculture and Commerce Departments. The number of Americans living in areas defined as rural in the 1980 census rose by 900,000 between 1987 and 1988, the study says. It estimates that about 25 percent of the US population - 64.8 million people - now lives in rural areas. This includes 4.95 million living on farms.

Some of this growth may not be reflected in the 1990 census, says Judith Kalbacher, a geographer with the Agriculture Department's Economic Reporting Service, and one of the report's authors. That's because several rural areas have grown so much they will be redefined as urban in the 1990 census.

The long-term drop in the number of farm residents may be leveling off, according to the report. ``It really takes more than one year of data to confirm a pattern,'' Ms. Kalbacher says. Still, farm population in 1988 fell only by 35,000, compared with much larger drops since 1980, when farm population stood at 6.1 million. Even this was less than in the previous decade, when the farm population fell from the 1970 level of 9.7 million, she says.

Rural population is concentrated in the South, where 44 percent of rural residents live. This figure has varied little in the last 40 years. Farm population, however, is increasingly Midwestern. In 1988, 50.6 percent of farm residents lived in the Midwest, with 29.6 percent living in the South. This is almost a reversal of the situation in 1950, when 32.3 percent of farm residents lived in the Midwest, while 51.6 percent lived in the South. This shift is due more to the decline of Southern farm than to any increase in Midwestern farms, Kalbacher says.

Some other features of the US farm population:

It is older, with a median age of 38 years, compared with 32.2 years for the nonfarm population.

It is 97.1 white, 2.2 percent black, and 2.8 percent Hispanic.

It has more married couples, with 69 percent of farm residents over 15 married and living with a spouse, compared with 56 percent of the nonfarm population.

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