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States with the biggest rural populations

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DonLand // Shutterstock

States with the biggest rural populations

It's predicted that by 2050, two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities. A once-agrarian planet is rapidly urbanizing, and America is no exception.

There was a time when most Americans lived in communities that by almost any measure could be called countrified. But today, much of the rural U.S. is hollowing out as young people flee to cities, death rates outnumber birth rates, sparsely populated towns age, metro suburbs expand, immigrants settle in densely populated areas, and so-called "new economy" jobs and wealth become concentrated almost exclusively in urban centers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, rural "encompasses all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area." To qualify as an urban area, the territory must have 2,500 inhabitants or more, at least 1,500 of whom reside outside institutional group quarters. The classification of "rural" and "urban," however, has changed over time.

In censuses before 1950, "urban" comprised all territory, people, and housing units in incorporated places of 2,500 or more in areas (usually minor civil divisions) classified as urban under special rules relating to population size and density. But the definition of urban excluded many large, heavily settled areas merely because they were not incorporated. Before 1950, the Census Bureau attempted to avoid some of the more obvious omissions by classifying selected areas as "urban under special rules."  Even with such exceptions, however, many large, built-up areas were not labeled urban.

Since the Census is taken every 10 years, the most recent data comes from 2010. A century before that in 1910, more than half of America's population lived in rural areas— 54.4%, to be exact. A half-century later in 1960, just 30.1% of the U.S. population was rural, and today that number has fallen to 19.3%—or fewer than one in five Americans living the country life.  

Using 2010 Census data, Stacker ranked each state by the percentage of its population residing in rural areas—from least to most. The list also includes each state's historical Census data from 1910 and 1960, as well as a breakdown of rural population density and rural land area.

You may also like: States that have lost the most farms since 2000

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Vladimir Kudinov // Unsplash

#50. California

- 2010 rural population: 5.1% of state (86.8% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 13.6% (#2 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 38.2% (#5 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 12.7 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 94.7%

Even a century before the most recent census, California was one of the five least rural states in America, despite the fact that nearly 95% of it is rural by land area. Today, aspiring Californians continue to pour into the Golden State, with more than 300,000 people moving to California in 2017 alone, bringing the state's population to just shy of 40 million people. The majority of those new arrivals land in regions that are already California's most densely populated places: the Bay Area, Southern California, and the Central Valley.

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Tom Hannigan // Flickr

#49. New Jersey

- 2010 rural population: 5.3% of state (77.5% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 11.4% (#0 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 23.6% (#3 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 105.5 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 60.3%

New Jersey is the most densely populated state, one of only two states with more than 1,000 people crammed into the average square mile. With Philadelphia to the south, New York City to the north, and the Jersey Shore along the coast, the state was never particularly rural and is getting more urban every year. Much of that urbanization is credited to millennials, who are showing an overwhelming preference for the state's small cities and compact, walkable suburbs.

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Anubhav Saxena // Unsplash

#48. Nevada

- 2010 rural population: 5.8% of state (93.1% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 29.6% (#17 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 83.7% (#9 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 1.4 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 99.3%

Nevada is mostly desert, but the areas where people do live are getting more populated every month. One of the fastest-growing states, Nevada is welcoming a wave of new residents, and the demographics of those newcomers are changing the state. According to U.S. News & World Report, both immigrants and progressives are disproportionately flooding the state's cities and suburbs, creating a political shift while bolstering Nevada's century-long race toward urbanization.

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Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism // Flickr

#47. Massachusetts

- 2010 rural population: 8.0% of state (27.0% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 16.4% (#4 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 11.0% (#1 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 109.2 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 61.7%

Massachusetts is the fastest-growing state in the Northeast despite the fact that it's actually losing residents to neighboring states. The population increase, according to MassLive, is due to a huge influx of international immigrants, who are more likely to flock to the state's urban centers, increasing the trend of urbanization in Massachusetts.

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Braden Jarvis // unsplash

#46. Hawaii

- 2010 rural population: 8.1% of state (88.4% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 23.5% (#7 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 69.3% (#24 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 18.2 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 93.9%

Hawaii maintains a unique land-use doctrine that splits every inch of the entire state into one of four so-called district boundaries: conservation, agricultural, rural, and urban. A full 48% of the state is classified as conservation, 47% is agricultural, 5% is urban, and just a fraction of a percent is slated as rural. The federal census, however, is not bound by this framework and clearly lumps agricultural, conservation, and rural district boundaries together.

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Romrodphoto // Shutterstock

#45. Florida

- 2010 rural population: 8.8% of state (87.5% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 26.1% (#11 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 70.9% (#21 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 35.9 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 86.2%

Florida is gaining residents faster than all but a handful of states in the entire country, and the newcomers are moving to urban centers far more than rural outposts. In fact, a recent WalletHub study showed that 40 of the fastest-growing cities in America are in the Sunshine State. Orlando alone gains 1,000 new residents every week.

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Lorna Wu 2 // Shutterstock

#44. Rhode Island

- 2010 rural population: 9.3% of state (3.0% increase since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 13.6% (#2 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 9.0% (#0 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 154 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 61.3%

Covering just over 1,000 square miles and claiming barely a million residents, tiny Rhode Island is geographically the smallest state in America. Although the state has actually become slightly more rural since 1910, it, like the rest of the country, has become dramatically less rural in the modern era starting in 1960. Today, according to the Rural Health Information Hub, there is not a single critical access hospital in rural Rhode Island, just four federally qualified health center sites, and not a single short-term hospital located outside of urbanized areas in the state.

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Tracy Zhang // Unsplash

#43. Utah

- 2010 rural population: 9.4% of state (82.5% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 25.1% (#9 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 53.7% (#15 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 3.2 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 98.9%

According to a report by Utah's Rural Planning Group, just four of Utah's 29 counties are slated as urban, 16 are classified as rural, and 9 are labeled as "transitional." By 2060, those transitional counties are expected to grow by 175% and the urban counties by 81%. Rural counties, on the other hand, are projected to grow by just 43%, further cementing the state's steady march toward urbanization.

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Marius Christensen // Unsplash

#42. Arizona

- 2010 rural population: 10.2% of state (85.2% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 25.5% (#10 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 69.0% (#23 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 5.8 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 98.1%

According to the Arizona Republic, Arizona's Maricopa County grew faster than any other county in America in 2017. Although the desert state is almost entirely rural by land area, the trend toward urbanization is clear. Phoenix, which is in Maricopa County, recently overtook Philadelphia as the nation's fifth-most-populous city.

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James Ahlberg // Unsplash

#41. Illinois

- 2010 rural population: 11.5% of state (69.9% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 19.3% (#5 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 38.3% (#6 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 28.6 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 92.9%

According to a recent report from Illinois Public Media, American rural populations actually grew by a tiny margin for the first time in 2018, but only in scenic areas like the Rocky Mountains and in rural areas that are close and accessible to big cities. This growth rarely applies to Midwestern rural areas like those in non-Chicago-metro Illinois, which continue to hemorrhage residents, particularly young people. Residents of Illinois' sparsely populated rural outposts are much older than the general population, as seniors tend to age in place, which leads to fewer jobs and even fewer young people willing to stay put.

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Erika Cross // Shutterstock

#40. Connecticut

- 2010 rural population: 12.0% of state (65.1% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 21.7% (#6 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 34.4% (#4 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 142.3 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 62.3%

America's income inequality divide is on clear display in Connecticut, a state defined by extraordinary and highly concentrated wealth contrasted with sprawling, widespread, and grinding poverty. Connecticut's biggest cities, according to the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, are largely insolvent, dysfunctional, and steeped in crime and poverty—the capital city of Hartford is on the verge of bankruptcy. The state is poised for strong urban growth for all the wrong reasons as the state's poor continue to flock to Connecticut's already struggling cities out of sheer necessity.

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Pixabay

#39. New York

- 2010 rural population: 12.1% of state (42.5% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 14.6% (#3 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 21.1% (#2 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 54.6 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 91.3%

New York City has been the largest urban center in America since the first census was conducted in 1790. With 8.5 million residents today, the Big Apple is now twice as populous as the #2 city, Los Angeles. Manhattan and its fellow boroughs are and have always been magnets for global immigrants and domestic transplants alike—but it's not just New York City driving the Empire State's trend toward urbanization. Many places like the Albany area are both urban and rural, and sparsely populated sections upstate are losing residents—particularly young residents—to more congested regions.

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Donnie Rosie // Unsplash

#38. Maryland

- 2010 rural population: 12.8% of state (74.0% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 27.3% (#15 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 49.2% (#11 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 96 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 79.4%

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was elected in 2014 largely on the state's rural votes—and he quickly moved to shift resources away from urban priorities such as mass transit to road programs that benefit low-density areas. The reality, however, is that Maryland's shrinking rural population is dependent on vibrant urban centers, namely Prince George County, Baltimore, and Montgomery County. Nearly half of all the state's jobs are in those three areas, as are the malls, colleges, stadiums, and federal facilities the entire state needs to thrive.

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Nathan Anderson // Unsplash

#37. Colorado

- 2010 rural population: 13.9% of state (72.1% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 26.3% (#12 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 49.7% (#12 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 6.8 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 98.5%

Like much of America, a stark urban-rural divide separates Colorado, and everything from culture to economics to politics largely depends on which side of that divide you fall. Colorado's urban and rural populations grew fairly evenly until 1940, but in the postwar years, the cities became boomtowns and rural expansion plateaued. Today, Denver is one of the five fastest-growing metropolitan regions in the country, experiencing population growth of almost 23% between 2010-2015 alone. On the other hand, populations in 23 Colorado counties are so small that they have fewer than seven people per square mile. That's sparse enough to meet the legal definition of "frontier."    

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Natalia Bratslavsky // Shutterstock

#36. Texas

- 2010 rural population: 15.3% of state (79.8% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 25.0% (#8 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 75.9% (#17 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 15.2 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 96.7%

Cities in Texas are growing faster than they are in any other state, according to NPR. In 2016, San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth held three of the top four spots in terms of numerical population growth, with San Antonio adding 66 newcomers a day between 2017 and 2017—the swiftest rate of increase in the entire country. Of course, it's Texas, so it's not like there isn't room.

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Patrick Perkins // Unsplash

#35. Washington

- 2010 rural population: 16.0% of state (66.1% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 31.9% (#18 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 47.0% (#9 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 16.7 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 96.4%

Net migration is the primary driver behind the population boom Washington State has been experiencing over the last several years. That means more people are moving into Washington than moving out—and those who arrive are far more likely to move to cities or metropolitan suburbs than to the state's vast tracts of rural land.

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Doug Kerr // Wikimedia Commons

#34. Delaware

- 2010 rural population: 16.7% of state (67.9% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 34.4% (#21 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 52.0% (#13 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 97.3 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 79.1%

One of only six states with a six-figure population, Delaware is on track to welcome its millionth resident by 2020. The small Mid-Atlantic state is growing faster than its neighbors, but it's also aging more. A full 17% of Delaware's population is now 65 or older, largely because retirees crave Delaware's low cost of living—not because they want to live in its rural outposts.

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Eric Muhr // Unsplash

#33. Oregon

- 2010 rural population: 19.0% of state (65.1% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 37.8% (#23 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 54.4% (#16 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 7.7 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 98.9%

A generational battle waged largely over natural resources and conservation has created a massive cultural and political divide between rural and urban Oregon. The growth of Portland, the only metro region in the entire state with a population in America's top 120, has created a concentration of wealth and jobs in the city. That, along with the decline of timber, has urbanized the state as a whole and diminished the political and cultural influence of Oregon's remote and sparsely populated counties.

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Christian Hinkle // Shutterstock

#32. Pennsylvania

- 2010 rural population: 21.3% of state (46.1% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 28.4% (#16 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 39.6% (#7 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 67.7 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 89.5%

Although more than one in five Pennsylvanians still live in rural areas, the trend toward urbanization is clear. Unlike states that benefit from net migration, the Keystone State's rural decline has more to do with natural population loss. Rural Pennsylvania is aging rapidly and there are simply more people dying than babies being born. Compounding that trend is the fact that when people move to Pennsylvania, they tend to move to cities like Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, or to a metropolitan suburb.

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Sherman Cahal // Shutterstock

#31. Ohio

- 2010 rural population: 22.1% of state (49.9% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 26.6% (#14 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 44.1% (#8 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 69.9 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 89.2%

In 2018, NBC profiled the Ohio cities of Dayton and Columbus—neighboring municipalities headed in very different directions. The capital city of Columbus is thriving as an educated workforce benefits from "new economy" jobs in tech and creative fields. Just 70 miles away, Dayton is suffering a decline as the "old economy" manufacturing jobs that built the city are no longer enough to sustain it. Although they're both cities, the new economy-old economy divide that has sent Dayton and Columbus on different paths mirrors the urban-rural dynamic that exists throughout Ohio and much of the Rust Belt.

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David Langford // Shutterstock

#30. New Mexico

- 2010 rural population: 22.6% of state (73.7% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 34.1% (#20 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 85.8% (#6 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 3.9 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 99.3%

Nearly all of the land area in New Mexico is rural, but more than 87% of the population is not. Although the trend is clearly moving away from rural dominance, the truth is that New Mexico has a population problem both in its cities and rural areas. New Mexico's population is growing at a far slower clip than its neighbors, and much of that growth is natural—it's not that people are moving there, just that more babies are being born than people are dying.

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Coliln Armstrong // Unsplash

#29. Virginia

- 2010 rural population: 24.6% of state (68.1% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 44.4% (#19 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 76.9% (#16 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 53.3 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 93.3%

Although 1920 marked the first year in history that more Americans were living in cities and towns than in rural areas, Virginia resisted that trend for three decades until 1950. Postwar economic expansion brought the suburbs to Virginia, and racial desegregation expanded the suburbs even further as both white flight and black migration increased. By 1990, according to the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, "more than 80 percent of all Virginians resided in the state's 41 cities and 188 incorporated towns."

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Matt Duncan // Unsplash

#28. Georgia

- 2010 rural population: 24.9% of state (68.6% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 44.7% (#18 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 79.4% (#14 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 45.8 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 91.7%

Georgia was a leader in terms of population growth and urbanization in the 1990s and early 2000s, but those gains came to a screeching halt with The Great Recession of 2008. Now, the Southern state seems to have resumed its march away from a rural lifestyle. Eight of the 500 fastest-growing cities are in the Peach State, and Atlanta is the third-fastest-growing metro region in the country.

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NASA

#27. Michigan

- 2010 rural population: 25.4% of state (51.8% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 26.6% (#14 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 52.8% (#14 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 47.5 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 93.6%

According to Michigan Farm News, three out of four of Michigan's nearly 10 million residents are crowded into just 6.4% of the state, "while the remaining rural population is spread over 93.6 percent of the state's land area." The publication found that Michigan's notoriously dilapidated and neglected inner-cities, such as Detroit and Flint, suffer from comparable rates of poverty as the state's rural residents, but overall, the urban-rural divide is stark. Urban Michiganders are far more likely than their rural counterparts to have access to good jobs, quality health care, and high-speed Internet.

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Lane Pearman // Flickr

#26. Kansas

- 2010 rural population: 25.8% of state (63.6% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 39.0% (#22 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 70.9% (#21 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 9.1 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 98.8%

An article for the New Food Economy painted a bleak picture of rural Kansas' prospects since "the broken promises of commodity agriculture have destroyed a way of life." The writer blames the state's shift to massive-scale grain production as the single biggest factor in the decline of rural Kansas. About 20% of America's wheat comes from Kansas, which dedicates 90% of its total land acreage to agriculture. When commodity prices tanked, however, much of the rural population fled the state or joined most of the population crowded into the state's eastern urban power centers. Half of the 626 incorporated towns in Kansas are now home to fewer than 400 people.

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Tony Webster // Wikimedia Commons

#25. Minnesota

- 2010 rural population: 26.7% of state (54.7% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 37.8% (#23 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 59.0% (#20 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 18.2 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 97.9%

The 14 Minnesota counties that are listed as "entirely rural" have collectively suffered a population decline since 2010, according to CBS Minnesota. "Partial" or "entirely urban" counties in the state are growing, thanks mostly to international immigration. Holding true to a familiar narrative, the state's rural population tends to be older and poorer, while younger and better-educated residents are joining the urban majority and transplants are flocking to cities and suburbs.

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Billy Hathorn // Wikimedia Commons

#24. Louisiana

- 2010 rural population: 26.8% of state (61.7% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 36.7% (#23 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 70.0% (#24 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 29.5 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 95.4%

Between 1982–2012, some 332,700 acres of agricultural land were converted to developed land in Louisiana. An additional 365,800 acres of forested land were converted for the same use. Still, between 2002–2012, Louisiana jumped from 27,413 farms to 28,093, suggesting that rural residents of the state now operate more farms with less farmland.

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vaalaa // Shutterstock

#23. Nebraska

- 2010 rural population: 26.9% of state (63.6% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 45.7% (#16 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 73.9% (#19 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 6.4 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 99.3%

In one of the most dramatic urban-rural divides in the Midwest, Nebraska gained a total of 96,000 residents in Sarpy, Lancaster, and Douglas counties between 2010–2017. They are the only three counties in the state with six-figure populations. The other 90 counties lost a cumulative 2,300 residents. In rural Nebraska, there are now fewer than seven people per square mile.  

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Chris Flook // Wikimedia Commons

#22. Indiana

- 2010 rural population: 27.6% of state (52.2% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 37.6% (#25 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 57.6% (#18 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 53.7 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 93.0%

Between 1950–2007, Indiana lost 24% of its farmland to development, virtually all of which went to accommodate urban sprawl. As farms lost acreage, however, Indiana gained people. During that same time, the state's population grew by 2.4 million people.

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Acroterion // Wikimedia Commons

#21. Idaho

- 2010 rural population: 29.4% of state (62.5% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 52.5% (#11 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 78.5% (#15 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 5.6 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 99.4%

All but a fraction of a percent of Idaho's land mass is rural and its rural population is approaching America's top 20 largest. But it has been clear for decades that Idaho is no exception to the trend of urbanization. In 1990, 59% of the state's population already lived in cities, and by 2012, that number jumped another 10 percentage points to 69%.

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TommyBrison // Shutterstock

#20. Missouri

- 2010 rural population: 29.6% of state (48.8% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 33.4% (#19 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 57.7% (#19 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 26.6 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 97.0%

The rural stronghold of Missouri is experiencing the same dynamic that exists in virtually all of America—migration to the city at the expense of the country. Over the next 30 years, all 10 of the state's fastest-growing counties will be metropolitan. The governor recently proposed spending $5 million to expand broadband access to the 10 school districts and several full communities that don't yet have high-speed Internet.

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John Reed // Unsplash

#19. Wisconsin

- 2010 rural population: 29.9% of state (47.6% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 36.2% (#22 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 57.0% (#17 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 32.5 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 96.5%

Wisconsin is home to 12 urban centers and America's #31 largest city, but the image of the state often seems dominated by its dairy farms. That's not just cheese industry marketing. According to a recent report by the National League of Cities, rural and urban Wisconsin are economic partners. Cheese and Harley-Davidson motorcycles are built in the country—the Harley plant is in Tomahawk, population: 3,335—and shipped to the cities, but the cities build the farm equipment and run the distribution centers that keep rural Wisconsin alive.  

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Nathan Anderson // Unsplash

#18. Tennessee

- 2010 rural population: 33.6% of state (57.9% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 47.7% (#14 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 79.8% (#13 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 55.6 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 93.0%

About one in three Tennesseans are still living in rural communities, but that number is likely to fall with the coming generation. While the state as a whole is slated to gain 1.2 million residents in the next 20 years, virtually all of that will be in the more prosperous and urban eastern and middle Tennessee regions. According to USA Today, if rural western Tennessee were its own state, it would be losing residents faster than almost any state in America.

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Page Light Studios // Shutterstock

#17. South Carolina

- 2010 rural population: 33.7% of state (60.5% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 58.8% (#8 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 85.2% (#8 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 56.3 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 92.1%

The 2008 recession forced a dramatic shift in South Carolina demographics and deepened the Palmetto State's urban-rural divide. According to the Post and Courier, the most prosperous areas in the state—those clustered around the major urban centers of Myrtle Beach, Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston—have rebounded so thoroughly from the financial crisis that many employers are struggling to fill job openings. Recovery never made it to most of the rural counties, however, and now a full 30% of South Carolinians live in distressed communities compared to 15% in the average state.

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Nicolas Henderson // Flickr

#16. Oklahoma

- 2010 rural population: 33.8% of state (58.2% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 37.1% (#24 lowest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 80.8% (#12 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 18.8 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 98.1%

Only Jacksonville, Fla., is bigger geographically than the 621-square-mile behemoth that is Oklahoma City. For decades, the city's metropolitan region has expanded so significantly that city leaders are now acting to slow or even stop urban sprawl. As Oklahoma City continued to bloat, however, the state's rural communities have been losing residents as part of the state's urban migration.

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Zack Frank // Shutterstock

#15. North Carolina

- 2010 rural population: 33.9% of state (60.4% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 60.5% (#7 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 85.6% (#7 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 73.5 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 90.5%

The Seahawk recently released a report titled: "Declining Carolina: The up-and-coming ghost towns of North Carolina." It revealed that 225 of the state's 553 municipalities—a full 41%—experienced a decline in population between 2010–2016. Still, the state population surpassed 10 million people in 2015 thanks to a huge increase in residents. The net gain is almost entirely in the prosperous urban centers, where median pay is often more than double that of rural counties.   

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Carrie Yang // Unsplash

#14. Alaska

- 2010 rural population: 34.0% of state (62.5% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 62.1% (#3 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 90.5% (#1 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 0.4 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 100.0%

Every square inch of land in Alaska is classified as rural, yet around two-thirds of the state's population lives outside of rural communities. Alaska is one of the few states where the overall population is declining. For the last two consecutive years, the state lost residents, virtually all of whom fled in search of jobs as the state's unemployment rate topped 6% for both of those years, compared with a national average of 3.7%.

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rachaelvoorhees // Flickr

#13. Wyoming

- 2010 rural population: 35.2% of state (49.9% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 43.2% (#20 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 70.4% (#23 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 2 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 99.8%

According to a report by the Casper Star-Tribune, it's hard to differentiate terms like "rural" and "small town" in Wyoming, a state with fewer than 600,000 residents—the least populous in the country. That's because the on-again, off-again oil boom has driven population growth that could be perceived as extensions of cities like Casper or could be considered tiny new rural outposts. In other cases, small Wyoming towns are just over or under the 2,500-population criteria set by the U.S. Census.

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Kelcy Gatson // Unsplash

#12. Iowa

- 2010 rural population: 36.0% of state (48.2% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 47.0% (#15 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 69.4% (#25 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 20 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 98.3%

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, 2017 marked three straight decades of population growth in Iowa, although it hasn't grown as much as most of its neighbors or the country as a whole. The rural-to-urban migration trend holds true there but not for the same reasons as in much of the Midwest. In Iowa, changes in racial and ethnic demographics have bolstered the cities as much as wages or economics. Since 2000, Hispanic, Asian, and African-American populations have grown by 116.6%, 100.8%, and 77.9% respectively.

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Peter Lewis // Unsplash

#11. New Hampshire

- 2010 rural population: 39.7% of state (17.6% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 41.7% (#21 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 48.2% (#10 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 62.9 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 92.8%

In New Hampshire, the urban areas are concentrated in the southeast near the Boston Metro. The rural strongholds are in the western part of the state near Vermont and in the north by Maine and Canada. The four biggest counties account for 72% of the population. The rest of the state's residents are scattered across the remaining six rural counties.  

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afiler // Flickr

#10. North Dakota

- 2010 rural population: 40.1% of state (54.9% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 64.8% (#1 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 89.0% (#2 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 3.9 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 99.7%

Thirty-nine of North Dakota's 53 counties are considered completely rural. In many cases, however, small, rural towns have reluctantly become more urban—at least by U.S. Census standards—thanks to the unprecedented and widely documented oil and gas boom, which helped America become the world's largest crude oil producer in 2018 for the first time, according to NPR. Many people who chose North Dakota's remote and tiny small towns saw their municipalities swamped with newcomers flooding the state in pursuit of lucrative oil-industry jobs.   

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Bobby Crim // Pexels

#9. Alabama

- 2010 rural population: 41.0% of state (50.5% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 45.2% (#17 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 82.7% (#10 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 40.4 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 95.6%

Much of Alabama is bucking the national trend of urban loss and rural growth. Since the last census in 2010, 22 of the state's 10,000-plus population cities actually lost residents, including Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery.

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David Barajas // Unsplash

#8. Kentucky

- 2010 rural population: 41.6% of state (45.0% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 55.5% (#10 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 75.7% (#18 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 47.4 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 96.4%

Reliably rural Kentucky has spent much of the 2010s urbanizing since the last census was completed. The state added more than 106,000 people in seven years, posting modest growth of 4.2%. Virtually all of it, however, was concentrated in the areas around Bowling Green and the so-called "Golden Triangle"—both major population centers. Rural counties, on the other hand, have declined by 0.7%.

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Tyler McEntee // Unsplash

#7. South Dakota

- 2010 rural population: 43.4% of state (50.1% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 60.7% (#6 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 86.9% (#5 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 4.7 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 99.7%

"South Dakota 10 years ago and South Dakota 10 years from now will be dramatically different," according to the local ABC affiliate KSFY. The difference will come from a dwindling rural population in favor of so-called "micropolitan" areas like Mitchell, Brookings, Aberdeen, and Watertown. Local officials blame two dynamics: Country residents are chasing higher-paying jobs in the urban cores, and parents are following their college graduate children who leave the rural areas and never return.

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Dirk-Jan van Roest // Unsplash

#6. Arkansas

- 2010 rural population: 43.8% of state (49.7% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 57.2% (#9 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 87.1% (#4 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 25.1 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 97.9%

Like most of its neighbors, Arkansas is watching small towns that aren't located near cities fade away while its urban centers are gaining residents. A full 327 of the state's 501 cities shrank between 2010–2017. All but 10 were home to fewer than 10,000 people, and all but 23 were home to fewer than 5,000 people.  

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Alan Labisch // Unsplash

#5. Montana

- 2010 rural population: 44.1% of state (31.6% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 49.8% (#12 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 64.5% (#21 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 3 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 99.8%

Like many Northwestern states, Montana has experienced strong economic growth in the 21st century, with job growth increasing by 20% from 2000 to 2015 and personal income growing statewide—on average, that is. Like their counterparts in neighboring states, many rural Montanans consider the increase of wealth and stability to be what the Missoulian calls "the boom next door." That's because virtually all of those gains were realized in urban centers like Missoula and Bozeman. As in so much of the rest of America, rural counties were left behind and are facing an uncertain future.

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Malachi Jacobs // Shutterstock

#4. Mississippi

- 2010 rural population: 50.7% of state (42.8% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 62.3% (#2 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 88.5% (#3 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 32.8 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 97.6%

One of only four states with a rural population above 50%, Mississippi has a single city—Jackson—with a population over 100,000, and only one other city—Gulfport—with a population over 50,000. According to the Advocate, millennials are fleeing Mississippi faster than any other state in America for that very reason above all others. As a group, millennials prefer cities, and they're abandoning the Magnolia State en masse in search of what they consider to be the greener pastures of high-density urban areas that simply don't exist in Mississippi outside Jackson.

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Peter Schreve // Unsplash

#3. West Virginia

- 2010 rural population: 51.3% of state (36.9% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 61.8% (#4 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 81.3% (#11 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 40.6 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 97.3%

West Virginia has the lowest median household income of any state in America, the #4 highest poverty rate, the #3 highest unemployment rate, the lowest college attainment rate, and the highest percentage of families earning less than $10,000 a year. A portrait of the decline of rural America, the coal-dependent Appalachian state exhibits a pattern that is repeated in virtually every state in America. West Virginians in urban areas tend to be better educated, earn higher incomes, and live in areas that are experiencing moderate population growth. West Virginia is one of only a handful of states to suffer net population loss, and virtually all of that decline comes from its rural areas.

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Joseph Sohm // Shutterstock

#2. Vermont

- 2010 rural population: 61.1% of state (15.4% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 61.5% (#5 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 72.2% (#20 highest among all states)
- Rural population density: 42.2 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 98.3%

One of only two Northeastern states in America's top 10 most rural states and one of only three in the top 30, Vermont is an anomaly—rural populations in much of the rest of the Northeast are dwindling rapidly. According to the University of Vermont, the comparatively wealthy state has enacted a laundry list of regulations designed to protect rural residents and farmers, including so-called right-to-farm laws and nuisance laws, the latter of which protect standard agriculture practices from being deemed a public nuisance.

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Adam Bixby // Unsplash

#1. Maine

- 2010 rural population: 61.3% of state (5.2% decrease since 1910)
- 1960 rural population: 48.7% (#13 highest among all states)
- 1910 rural population: 64.7% (#22 lowest among all states)
- Rural population density: 26.7 people / sq. mile
- Rural land area: 98.8%

In a statistic that no other state on the list can possibly come close to matching, Maine's rural population decreased by just 5.2% in the century between 1910 and 2010. Maine, the most rural state in America, has only three urbanized areas: Lewiston, Bangor, and Portland. The state surpassed Vermont with the arrival of the 2010 census after spending a decade bucking the national trend by becoming more rural. Two Maine counties, Piscataquis and Lincoln, are 100% rural.

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