How do we think about population loss?

Depopulation affects service and infrastructure provision, quality of life, and the long-term social, demographic, and economic viability of communities and regions. The main objective of this project is to remedy our lack of knowledge about the geography and pervasiveness of population loss in the United States.

This project draws on decennial census data from 1950 to 2010 to map population change across U.S. counties. Each of the tabs below focuses on a different aspect of population loss: its persistence over time, the degree to which adjacent counties experience population loss, and migration flows between counties. This project was developed by Rachel Franklin and is supported by the National Science Foundation, award # 1561060 and the National Institutes of Health, award # 5R03HD083518-02.

Click on one of the boxes below to view their associated data visualization.

Population Loss

The geography of population loss reflects secular trends in rural-to-urban migration, particularly outmigration from the Great Plains and economic restructuring leading to loss in the Rust Belt. But recent loss is related to forced migration stemming from the foreclosure crisis and recession. Depopulation is often linked to the loss of higher-income households, leaving communities with higher concentrations of high-needs populations but fewer resources to support them.

Spatial Context

Depopulation is clustered in space forming regions of loss visible in parts of Appalachia and the Great Plains. Loss amidst loss compounds the difficulties posed by local population loss. Populations living in islands of loss, however, may have access to important regional resources, particularly employment, and are more likely to rebound from depopulation.


Depopulation may be fleeting or persistent, though many counties have lost during several or all of the past six decades. Persistent loss is linked to deep loss, with large percentages of loss from peak population values. The persistence of loss indicates a vicious cycle of decline and the deep erosion of amenities and social networks for remaining residents.


Migration is the main demographic driver of loss, with residents moving from low- to high-opportunity locations. These visualizations show county-to-county migration flows 2000 to 2010.