Americans and immigrants from abroad are flocking to the nation’s metropolitan areas in droves, pursuing new jobs and economic opportunity. But at the same time, rural America is losing population at an alarming rate, raising fears that economies slow to recover from the recession have dark futures ahead.

Annual population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday show 60 percent of American counties experienced natural population growth over the last year. In just over half the nation’s counties, more people migrated in than moved out.

But since the recession, the vast majority of American population growth has been concentrated in a very small number of counties — ones that are home to booming metropolises.

“By and large, the dynamics squarely favor large, dense, often coastal places,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow and policy director at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “The digital nature of the economy now rewards dense, highly skilled pools of technical talent, even more than in the past.”

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