Where People are Living in 2016

Before the Industrial Revolution, most people lived in tight-knit rural communities, often turning to farming or textiles as sources of income. However, the late 1700s and early 1800s introduced new machinery that attracted people to cities like magnets in search of better lives. Urban communities built solid infrastructures that introduced new amenities and attractions. Of course, rural and suburban living still exists today, so how does the population divide itself among different lifestyles?

Rural Dwellers Can’t Find Jobs

Image via Flickr by Lima Pix

While farms and other rural businesses continue to exist, the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, reports that decreasing job availability has driven many rural dwellers into larger cities. High poverty rates remain from the 2008 recession, and although this sector has seen slow growth as rural industries recover, many workers have fled their rural businesses to continue feeding their families.

In 2014, according to the USDA, 15 percent of the U.S. population, or around 46 million people, lived in rural communities. In the previous four years, however, more than 116,000 people moved from rural homesteads into more urbanized areas. After the recession, deep poverty increased across the board, making rural life unsustainable for Americans.

Urban Communities Encroach on Suburban Neighborhoods

While rural population declines have proven gradual, the shift from suburban to urban living has occurred at a much faster rate. Writing for the Washington Post, The Fix contributor Philip Bump reports that, while suburban and rural communities still exist — particularly in the West — many areas have become far more densely urban, which has changed how populations vote and interact with public policy makers.

The Wire correspondent Lucy Westcott notes that the suburban exodus from urban housing has begun to reverse. Between 2012 and 2013, urban populations grew by about 2.3 million people. Westcott notes that baby boomers have returned to their home cities after raising their families, often in search of better amenities, while young professionals seem drawn to urban communities thanks to improved entertainment options and better socialization opportunities.

Economic Factors Influence Where People Want to Live

Demographics aren’t the only contributors to increased urban populations. Writing for The Guardian, LSE Cities’ Ricky Burdette notes that “urbanisation has always been closely linked to economic development.” Globally, 33 percent of the population lives in urban environments, but large cities produce more than half of all global economic output.

However, Laura Kusisto of the Huffington Post argues that moves from urban to suburban areas might be increasing again. The 2008 recession drove residents from their suburban homes back to big cities, but now that the economy has begun to recover, real estate agents and analysts have noticed that people seem prepared to return to their suburban roots. Regardless, according to Kusisto, population growth in urban and suburban areas have dramatically outpaced life in rural communities.

Increases in urban and suburban populations could challenge tomorrow’s public policy makers to accommodate for this growth. Professionals with advanced degrees in public administration can help shape the future and bring new solutions for public policy challenges.