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Growth in Small Town America

May 21, 2015
Sarah Gibb, Rodger Johnson

Many people are nostalgic for “small town” America, where everyday life was commonly organized around a bustling Main Street lined with small shops and restaurants. While it is true that less of the nation’s population resides in small towns today compared with 50 years ago, many small towns have been reinvigorated in recent years.

The U.S. Census Bureau measures population change for small towns across the country and for all areas of general-purpose government every year. These governments include incorporated places, minor civil divisions and consolidated cities. Incorporated places are the most common of these, which include cities, towns, boroughs and villages.

There were 19,509 incorporated places across the nation in 2014, the majority of which were  small. A total of 85 percent (16,486) had populations of less than 10,000 on July 1, 2014. An additional 12 percent (2,274) had a population size between 10,000 and 50,000. The remaining 4 percent (749) had populations of 50,000 or more.

Places with populations smaller than 10,000 constituted about 9 percent of the nation’s population on April 1, 2010, and this has held steady for every year between 2010 and 2014.

Cities and towns with fewer than 10,000 people were geographically concentrated in the Midwest and the South. These regions contained 46 percent and 34 percent, respectively, of the nation’s small places.

Contrary to popular belief, many of these places are growing. Between Census Day (April 1, 2010) and July 1, 2014, the populations of small places grew by 293,000 (1 percent), with a corresponding growth in their housing stock of 1 percent as well.

If you would like to continue to explore the population estimates for cities and towns released today, or to examine other population trends in the United States, please go to https://www.census.gov/popest/. For the economic side of this story, see the Census Bureau’s ZIP Code Business Patterns, which provide statistics on business establishments with small numbers of employees for specific industries, and the Economic Census Geographic Area Series, which offers statistics on the number of establishments in cities and towns, also by industry.

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