Skip to content
Patrick Woodie

With the recent release of the 2020 Census Data, we find that the number of rural counties in North Carolina has shifted from 80 to 78 since 2010. There continues to be a trend in population gains in metro/regional areas in our state, directly leading to the flip of Onslow and Johnston counties to the regional city/suburban category.

While this county change in demographic status is to be expected, it raises several questions that I believe the NC Rural Center should take a deeper look at. Particularly, the following three items:

  • While there are population gains in metro/regional areas in North Carolina, around 50 counties are reported to have lost some population. This change was highly concentrated in a third or less of those particular counties, with Robeson county having the most pronounced change. While we have suspicions that, in some cases, displacement due to consecutive hurricanes may have caused this change, we’d like to know more as it relates to Robeson county specifically, and the others who have experienced a population decrease over the last 10 years, particularly in northeastern and coastal North Carolina counties where the largest population loss is seen.
  • We know that there are many stories to tell when it comes to diversity in the state’s population, particularly within age cohorts. The new census data shows us that the state population is growing more diverse, particularly when you consider the voting age cohort in the country, and in our state as well. In addition, Census changes to race and ethnicity questions reported higher multiracial responses than ever before. We’d like to spend time looking more closely at this information, and combine what we learn with the stories we know of a diverse rural population, continuing to dispel the myth that rural is synonymous with an older and white population in North Carolina, as the real story is much more nuanced than that. 
  • At the Center, based on what we are reading as census numbers are unpacked and interpreted, we worry that there have been statistically important undercounts in some rural counties, as they are home to the communities and populations most likely to be undercounted. Additionally, this undercount particularly includes Latinos, and more specifically, rural Latinos. There have been several studies to showcase this belief as well as challenges pending to the count itself, and we would like to do work to understand the extent to which this happened, and advocate for change as it relates to the impact on economic development in our state. 

As we set out to take a deeper look particularly at these questions brought to light by the 2020 Census data, specifically as they relate to our mission and core values, we commit to transparency and collaboration in our findings and research, for the betterment of rural North Carolinians. More to come!