Urban Population Shrinks After Census Definition Change

The U.S. Census Bureau raised the bar for communities to qualify as urban areas.

2 minute read

January 3, 2023, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Woman sitting on bench at rural bus stop

Aigars Reinholds / Rural bus stop

A change in definition by the U.S. Census Bureau has reclassified nearly 1,000 “urban areas” in the United States, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as “densely developed residential, commercial, and other nonresidential areas.”  

According to an announcement on December 29, the Census Bureau has changed the criteria to fit that definition, most notably by raising the minimum population threshold for an urban area from 2,500 to 5,000 or a minimum housing unit threshold of 2,000 housing units.

Other criteria changes include reducing the “jump distance” from 2.5 miles to 1.5 miles (jump distance “is the distance along roads used to connect high-density urban territories surrounded by rural territory,” according to the press release) and no longer distinguishing between urbanized areas and urban clusters.

After the change, urban areas account for 80.0% of the U.S. population, down from 80.7% in 2010, according to the press release. “The rural population — the population in any areas outside of those classified as urban — increased as a percentage of the national population from 19.3% in 2010 to 20.0% in 2020.”

The press release states clearly that shifting population ratios in the country are a result of the change of definition—not a shift of population from urban to rural (though there is some evidence of such a trend in recent years).

The Associated Press provided news coverage of the criteria change. For more information on the population estimates published by the Census in December, see previous Planetizen coverage.

Thursday, December 29, 2022 in U.S. Census Bureau

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