RELEASE: Rural Communities Reap Big Benefits by Welcoming Immigrant Families as Neighbors, According to New CAP Study

The analysis was exclusively reported on by Esther Cepeda of The Washington Post Writers Group.

Washington, D.C. — The United States is undergoing demographic changes that continue to reshape entire communities, but little attention has so far been paid to how this impacts rural communities. A new Center for American Progress analysis provides a more complete narrative of immigrants in rural America, detailing the many positive roles they are playing in reviving, growing, and sustaining rural communities and how rural communities have responded differently to these demographic changes.

The report illustrates the geography of population growth or decline in rural communities, paying close attention to changes in the immigrant population. It is followed by a discussion of how immigrants can help to mitigate the side effects of population decline and aging, often leading communities to prosperity. The report focuses on the economic contributions of immigrants to various industries in rural communities as well as strategies that communities have utilized to help integrate residents and newcomers.

The main findings are as follows:

Among the 2,767 rural places identified in this report:

  • The adult population declined 4 percent—a combination of a 12 percent decline in the native-born population and a 130 percent growth among immigrants.
  • Of these places, 1,894, or 68 percent, saw their population decline between 1990 and 2012–2016.
  • In 78 percent of the rural places studied that experienced population decline, the decline would have been even more pronounced if not for the growth of the foreign-born population. Without immigrants, the population in these places would have contracted by 30 percent, even more staggering than the 24 percent they experienced.
  • In the 873 rural places that experienced population growth, more than 1 in 5, or 21 percent, can attribute the entirety of population growth to immigrants.

“After exploring the role of immigration in rural America, it became clear that immigrants are leaving a positive mark in rural communities. They bring vitality, provide an indispensable workforce to support and expand local economies, and help to stave off population decline. Immigrants in rural communities have kept schools and hospitals open and, in some cases, expanded school enrollment and provided the only critically-needed medical care available in the area,” said Silva Mathema, senior policy analyst for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress. “In these polarized times, successfully integrating immigrants into America’s rural communities can bring big dividends, and rural places can show us the path forward on how best to overcome conflict around demographic change.”

“Immigrants are breathing fresh life into declining rural communities as they reverse population loss. As they open small businesses, contribute to the local tax base, and become civically engaged, they are sustaining those things that make their communities into a home,” said Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, senior policy analyst for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress. “With the right policies, immigrants could play an even bigger role. Rural communities across the country stand to benefit by embracing all members, from their settlers’ descendants to their newest neighbors.”

The analysis uses the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural-Urban Commuting Area codes—characterizing 2,767 places based on their rurality, size, and population change from 1990 to 2012–2016. To see the full methodology, please refer to the methodological appendix.

Click here to read: “Revival and Opportunity: Immigrants in Rural America” by Silva Mathema, Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, and Anneliese Hermann

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Rafael Medina at  or 202.478.5313.