The rural child poverty rate grew by more than a third during the past decade, according to a new report from the USDA Economic Research Service.
One in four rural children lived in poverty in 2009-2013, according to the 2013 American Community Survey. That’s up from one in five rural children in 1999.
During the same period, the metropolitan child-poverty rate grew at a slightly lower rate of 31 percent. About one in every five metropolitan residents under the age of 18 lives in poverty, the report said.
The increase in the rural child-poverty rate was not consistent across the country, however. Some counties got hit a lot harder than others.
“The problem of high and rising rural child poverty has been widespread but not pandemic across rural areas,” writes ERS Senior Economist David McGranahan in the analysis released this week in the ERS magazine, Amber Waves.
The percentage of poor children was greatest in counties that depended on manufacturing jobs, compared to other counties where agriculture, mining, or recreation dominated the economy.
In rural manufacturing counties, child poverty climbed by 45 percent from 1999 to 2009-2013. During the same period, roughly one in four rural manufacturing jobs disappeared, according to the report.
In contrast, agriculture-dependent rural counties saw an increase of about 6 percent in child poverty. Child poverty increased by about 5 percent in rural counties that depend heavily on the recreation industry.
In mining counties — which include the oil and gas industries that boomed during the period of the study — child poverty also grew by about 5 percent.
And counties that don’t fall into one of the other economic categories saw a child-poverty increase of 22 percent.
Researchers have long seen a connection between higher child-poverty rates and a lower proportion of parents with a high school diploma. But an even bigger factor in rural child-poverty rates appears to be the growth in single-family households, the study found.
“Differences in family structure are now more important than differences in educational attainment in explaining why some counties have higher child poverty rates than others,” McGranahan wrote.
Rural counties with a higher percentage of residents who were people-of-color had higher rates of child poverty. But most of the difference correlated with other factors such as the percentage of single-family households and percentage of population that holds a high school diploma.
McGranahan looked at nonmetropolitan counties in the United States. Nonmetropolitan counties have no city of 50,000 residents or greater and are not closely linked economically to a county that does. The 2009-2013 data from the American Community Survey is a five-year average.