Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17306 A New Typology for Understanding Patterns of Population and Economic Change In Rural Counties

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 11:45 AM
Independence C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Donna M. Aguiniga, PhD, Assistant Professor, Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL
Purpose and Background: This study developed a new typology to better understand patterns of population and economic change in rural counties. Many rural counties struggle to adapt to trends in American society. Between 1990 and 2000, approximately 71 percent of rural counties (1,451 counties) gained population; however, almost one-third of those counties have lost population since 2000 (Johnson, 2006). In addition, many rural counties have faced new economic challenges as they have gained or lost industries, including those related to retirement, tourism-based, or manufacturing companies.

Both urban and rural communities demonstrate a link between their economic and population factors (Millward, 2003). Oftentimes, a growth in one factor may demonstrate a correlated growth or decline in the other. Furthermore, because of the link between economy and geography, economic prosperity accumulates in populated areas and the isolation and sparse population of rural America means that rural communities are at a disadvantage (Wiggins & Proctor, 2001).

Methodology: Secondary data was used to perform a cluster analysis to group rural counties based on the interaction between population and economic trends. Geographic information systems (GIS) mapping software was then used to develop a series of maps to provide a visual output of the results. The cluster analysis, utilizing an average-linkage agglomerative technique and both hierarchical and k-means clustering procedures, grouped 144 rural Texas counties by the population percent change and per capita personal income percent change that occurred between the years 2000 and 2007. A series of post-hoc ANOVA tests were performed to profile the clusters on identified variables (e.g. foreign born migration, race/ethnicity of residents, natural amenities) that have been found to affect population and economic growth in rural areas.

Analysis: A stable five-cluster solution was selected as the most appropriate. The clusters are categorized as Declining Population-Stable Economy, Growing Population-Growing Economy, Declining Population-Growing Economy, Growing Population-Stable Economy, and Declining Population-Declining Economy based on the means of the cluster variates. Clusters were found to differ on net migration, foreign born migration, race/ethnicity of residents, percentage of commuters, economic dependence status, and number of two and four-year education institutions. Generated maps of the clusters revealed that bordering a neighboring state or country may also affect a county's population and economic growth.

Implications: The purpose of this typology was to help improve community development efforts. Specific recommendations to improve efforts include focusing on increasing educational access in rural counties and developing services to draw in foreign-born immigrants. Rural counties that can provide educational opportunities may be better able to develop a workforce that will be equipped to tap into industry trends and to limit the flight of young adult residents. Policy guidelines need to be developed to draw in foreign-born immigrants. As part of the guidelines, education and dedicated funds should be used to ease development tensions and provide social service supports to new residents. It is also recommended that attention be given to understanding and facilitating cross border collaborations.

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