March 15, 2013

Is Rural Flight Slowing?

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Q: Is there any sign of a reverse in the flight of people from rural and small-town Oklahoma to more urban areas?

A: In some ways, yes, but the question is whether the trend will last.

Because of the oil and gas boom in northwestern Oklahoma, many people are moving there to work from other areas of the state, said Steve Beleu, of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, which coordinates the Oklahoma State Data Center.

The work in the energy sector is, at least temporarily, reversing a trend of migration from some rural areas to metropolitan ones, Beleu said.

“In general, there’s been a long-term trend in Oklahoma for people to move into what I call the population triangle in our state, which is roughly an area between the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Statistical Area up through Tulsa,” he said. That included people migrating out of rural areas, especially northwest Oklahoma and the Panhandle.

“The oil and natural gas boom is sending people to those areas again for work. So the question is: Once the oil and natural gas boom levels off, will those people move out or will they stay?”

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau released new estimates for population by county and metropolitan and micropolitan areas. Micropolitan areas are urban clusters with between 10,000 and 49,999 people.

Overall, the state grew by .8 percent from 2011 to 2012, to 3.8 million.

The Census Bureau credited much of the growth in the Great Plains and West Texas to the energy boom in the region. “There are probably many factors fueling this growth on the prairie, but no doubt the energy boom is playing a role,” said Thomas Mesenbourg, senior advisor for the Census Bureau.

Along with oil-and-gas boom rural counties, metro areas also are growing.

From 2011 to 2012, the Oklahoma City metro area showed growth of 1.6 percent, while the Tulsa metro area grew by .7 percent.

“People move to where jobs are,” Beleu said. “The metropolitan growth just continues a pattern that was already there.”

Elk City was the seventh fastest growing micropolitan area, with its population rising by 3.5 percent from 2011 to 2012. Weatherford grew an estimated 2.8 percent and Woodward 2.5 percent.

The county with the biggest percentage increase between 2010, when the Census was taken, and the new 2012 estimates was Canadian County, with 6.1 percent growth, followed by Logan County and Beckham County, in which Elk City is located, both with 4.3 percent.

While 39 of the 77 counties saw a population increase between that period, 38 had a population decrease. The county that lost the highest percentage of population was Blaine County, which lost a whopping 18 percent over the two years.

The median percentage loss for counties that decreased in population was .8 percent.
According to data from the Census Bureau, 15 counties in Oklahoma lost population between both 2000-2010 and 2010-2012.