Business & Industry
While agriculture, forestry, and mining remain important sectors in some rural areas, service and retail industries have accounted for most job growth in rural America over the past few decades. ERS research on rural business and industry focuses on industrial trends that shape the job opportunities available to the rural labor force.
Employment & Education
Unemployment rates in nonmetro areas are similar to rates in metro areas, though with wide geographic variation, and the impact of the 2007-09 recession was similar in metro and nonmetro areas. Average earnings, however, are substantially lower among nonmetro workers, as are education levels. The lower rural earnings levels reflect lower shares of highly skilled jobs and lower returns to college degrees in rural labor markets.
ERS has developed a program of research showing how landscape and climate have been shaping the geography of rural growth and decline.
Population & Migration
Nonmetro areas in some parts of the country have experienced population loss for decades. However, 2010-14 marks the first period with an estimated population loss for nonmetro America as a whole. Opportunities for population growth and economic expansion vary widely from one nonmetro county to the next, and new regional patterns of growth and decline have emerged in recent years.
ERS has updated two key county classifications that measure rurality and assess the economic and social diversity of rural America beyond the metro/nonmetro dichotomy. The Rural-Urban Continuum Codes and Urban Influence Codes are part of a suite of data products for rural analysis available on the Rural Classifications topic page found on the ERS website.
Rural Development Policy
ERS rural development policy research focuses on the deployment of strategies and the crafting of policies that target development.
Rural Poverty & Well-being
ERS research in this area focuses on the economic, social, and demographic factors that affect the poverty status and incomes of rural residents and their participation in Federal assistance programs.