Wide Open Spaces
Population in North Carolina, like the nation, and countries around the world, is increasingly clustered in urban areas. Half of the state’s population resides in 13 counties—all of which are within major metropolitan areas. In contrast, just 10% of North Carolina residents live in the 42 least populated counties in the state.
As population shifts toward urban areas, these counties hold a steadily declining share of North Carolina residents. In 1920, nearly one in four (23%) residents were in these 42 counties, in part reflecting the prevalence of agricultural employment in the early twentieth century. But shifts to manufacturing jobs mid-century, and professional and service industry jobs in more recent decades, led to the clustering of employment opportunities in urban areas. By 2020, only 9.3% of the state’s residents are projected to be living in these 42 counties.