Rural Incomes Decline — But Catch Up

The recession of the late 2000s didn't help anyone, but median household incomes fell less in rural counties than in the cities.

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Everybody lost income in the first decade of the 2000s — rural, urban and small cities. But the average median household in rural counties fell less than in the cities, and so the gap between urban counties and those in the countryside narrowed.

The chart above shows the average median household income in the U.S., in rural counties, in urban counties and in counties with small cities (between 10,000 and 50,000 people). 

(Median income in a county is the amount where half the families have higher incomes and half have lower incomes. For this story, we averaged median incomes in rural, urban and small city counties. Amounts were adjusted to 2010 dollars.)

Median family income in rural counties fell by $1,906, to $38,715 in 2010. That was a decline of 4.9 percent.

Urban counties saw a decrease of $4,099, falling to $49,847 — a decline of 8.2%.

The U.S. average fell $2,971, to $43,068. That’s a 6.9 percent decline.

The smaller decrease in rural counties allowed them to catch up slightly with income in the cities. In 2000, the median family income in rural counties was 75.3 percent of that in urban counties. By 2010, the average median family income in rural counties was 77.7% of the cities.

Small cities experienced the same percentage decline in average median family income as in the cities.

Was this decrease in median household income equal across the country or were particular areas more affected? The map below tells the story. (Click on the map to see a larger version

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Counties in dark blue experienced a larger decline in their median household income compared to counties in light blue. 

Counties in dark blue experienced a decline of more than $5,000 dollars in their real median household income between 2000 and 2010. Counties in Michigan were particularly affected. 

Counties in light blue experienced a decrease of less than $250 dollars between 2000 and 2010. 

Roberto Gallardo is an assistant extension professor and economic development specialist at the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University.

 

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