Forty years ago North Carolina was the nation’s fourth most rural state, but today more than 60 percent of the state’s people live in urban areas. What happened? And, will it continue? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden explains.
“What happened was the economy changed. The industries that supported rural North Carolina and supported small town North Carolina entities – (industries) like farming and textiles – they either downsized or they shifted their production methods to machinery and technology. So they simple don’t need as many workers. (And if) you don’t need as many workers, you’re not going to have as big of a population.
“At the same time, industries that have been growing in the state – like technology, medical care, consumer and business services – have mainly located in urban areas. So we have seen this shift of population growth and population out of rural areas into urban areas. And if these trends continue, and most people think they will, by 2050 almost a third of North Carolina’s rural counties could de-populate and the state’s urbanization rate could reach 80 percent.
“Obviously, this will create issues, particularly financial issues for rural counties. Also, it will create some issues related to congestion in urban counties. But it looks like this is a trend that will keep marching on.”