By HOPE YEN
WASHINGTON (AP) - A record number of U.S. counties - more than 1 in 3 - are now dying off, hit by an aging population and weakened local economies that are spurring young adults to seek jobs elsewhere.
New 2012 census estimates highlight the population shifts as the U.S. encounters its most sluggish growth levels since the Great Depression.
The findings also reflect the increasing economic importance of foreign-born residents. Without new immigrants, many metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis would have posted flat or negative population growth.
The areas of natural decrease stretch from industrial areas near Pittsburgh and Cleveland to the vineyards outside San Francisco to the rural areas of East Texas and the Great Plains.
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