Why This Year’s ‘Rural America at a Glance’ Deserves a Second Look

The annual reference document from the USDA Economic Research Service shows that there’s no such thing as a single rural America. Economic trends vary greatly depending on several geographic and social factors.

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This year’s “Rural America at a Glance” may require readers to take a second – or even a third look.

The 2019 edition of this standard reference document emphasizes that conditions in rural America vary greatly from place to place, depending on how many people in those counties live in towns and how far the county is from the nearest larger city.

For example, while nonmetropolitan population has declined just slightly during this decade, a closer look reveals that rural counties with larger small towns and cities have grown over the period, while all other types of nonmetropolitan counties have lost population since 2010.

“Rural America at a Glance” is produced by the USDA Economic Research Service and offers a snapshot of economic and social trends in counties that lie outside the nation’s metropolitan areas. At the Daily Yonder, we keep a copy of the report tacked to the bulletin board for easy reference for commonly cited figures on employment, population change, and economics. We suspect we aren’t the only ones who keep a copy close at hand throughout the year.

“Rural America at a Glance” contains detailed statistics on the nation’s 46.1 million residents (14.1% of the U.S. population) that live in “nonmetro counties.” The 2019 edition of the report focuses on population change, employment growth, poverty trends and real personal income trends.

The report also documents the continued trend of nonmetro counties containing slower economic growth than metropolitan counties. The nonmetro rate of 0.4% growth compares with 1.5% in metro areas from 2010 to 2018.

Labor force participation rates are lower in nonmetro counties than metro counties. The prime-age labor force participation rate in nonmetro areas remains 3.0 percentage points below its pre-recession rate, according to ERS.

Nonmetro poverty rates had regional differences between the rural-urban continuum, with more rural and remote counties experiencing more poverty. Poverty rates did peak between 2011 and 2013, and have declined between 1.7% and 2.3% points.

The report also documents the differences between personal income per person between economic types. Nonmetro counties dependent on farming and mining had tended to struggle economically in recent years. Nonmetro counties that are recreation dependent, on the other hand, have experienced an increase in real personal income per person.

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