U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack used a new USDA report, Rural America at a Glance, 2013 Edition, to call on Congress to finish work on the Farm Bill and “reverse troubling demographic and economic patterns in rural America.”

According to the report, which is produced annually by USDA’s Economic Research Service based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, since the start of 2011, net job growth in non-metro areas has been near zero while employment has grown at a meager 1.4 percent annual rate in metro regions. At the same time, non-metro areas experienced population loss driven by a net migration decrease.

Between the first halves of 2012 and 2013, the number of employed people increased in 41 percent of non-metro counties and fell or was unchanged in the remaining 59 percent of counties. Non-metro job losses were especially large in Arkansas, Illinois and Arizona, while non-metro gains were more common in the Northern Plains and in the Southwest, according to the report.

According to the report, between April 2010 and July 2012, the estimated population of non-metro counties fell by just fewer than 44,000, or 0.09 percent. While quite small, this downward trend is the first recorded period of non-metro population loss. What does this mean for rural communities? According to the report, this type of population loss could “reduce demand for jobs, diminishes the quality of the workforce and raises the per capital costs of providing services.”

“Today’s annual report by USDA's Economic Research Service - Rural America at a Glance, 2013 Edition- highlights the critical need for a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will help to reverse troubling demographic and economic patterns in rural America,” said Secretary Vilsack.

“Too many people still have trouble finding a good job. The populations of too many small towns and rural communities are shrinking. This is just one more reminder that we need a national commitment to create new opportunities in rural America that keeps folks in our small towns and reignites economic growth across the nation.

“It would invest in the future of Main Street businesses and communities. Rural America needs a new Farm Bill now, to meet these modern challenges head on and chart a pathway for future economic success across our rural areas.”