ERS Charts of Note

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Fentanyl and other illicit opioids replaced prescription drugs as drivers of the opioid epidemic in 2011

Friday, April 2, 2021

Since the late 1990s, an opioid epidemic has afflicted the U.S. population, particularly those in the prime working ages of 25-54. As a result, the National age-adjusted mortality rate from drug overdoses rose from 6.1 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 21.7 per 100,000 in 2017, then dipped to 20.7 per 100,000 in 2018 and rose back to 21.6 in 2019. Among the prime working age population, the drug overdose mortality rate was 37.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. This rate was exceeded only by cancer (39.2 deaths per 100,000) in 2019 as a major cause of death in this population. ERS researchers, examining the opioid epidemic from 1999 to 2018, observed two distinct phases: a “prescription opioid phase” (1999-2011) and a succeeding “illicit opioid phase” (2011-2018), marked especially by the spread of fentanyl and its analogs. Updated data show the second phase has extended into 2019. Mortality data indicate that in the prescription opioid phase, drug overdose deaths were most prevalent in areas with high rates of physical disability, such as central Appalachia. Rural residents, middle-age men and women in their 40s and early 50s were most affected, as were Whites and American Indian/Alaskan Natives. Opioid prescriptions ceased driving the epidemic in 2011 as increased regulation and greater awareness of prescription addiction problems took hold. The illicit opioid phase that followed involved primarily heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Fentanyl and its analogs are often used to spike other addictive drugs, including prescription opioids, creating powerful combinations that make existing drug addictions more lethal. During the study period, this second phase was concentrated in the northeastern United States, particularly in areas of employment loss. This phase most often involved urban young adult males, ages 25 to 39. All the racial/ethnic groups studied—Hispanics, Blacks, American Indian/Alaskan Natives, and Whites—were affected. This chart updates data found in the Economic Research Service report The Opioid Epidemic: A Geography in Two Phases, released April 2021.

Rural death rates from COVID-19 surpassed urban death rates in early September 2020

Friday, March 19, 2021

During the initial COVID-19 surge between March and June 2020, large urban areas had the highest weekly death rates from the virus in the United States. Those numbers declined as medical professionals learned more about the virus, how to treat it, and how to prevent its spread. As the virus spread from major urban areas to rural areas, the second COVID-19 surge, from July to August 2020, brought more deaths to rural areas. The peak in deaths associated with this surge was smaller because testing was more widespread, the infected population was younger and less vulnerable, and treatments were more effective. However, in early September 2020, COVID-19 death rates in rural areas surpassed those in urban areas. This trend continued into a third, still ongoing, surge that spiked in rural areas during the holiday season and again shortly thereafter. Rural areas have shown higher death rates per 100,000 adults since September in part because they had higher rates of new infections than urban areas, but that is not the whole story. Rural COVID-19 deaths per 100 new infections 2 weeks prior (to account for the lag between infection and death) were 2.2 in the first 3 weeks of February—35 percent higher than the corresponding urban mortality rate of 1.6 deaths per 100 new infections 2 weeks earlier. The rural population appears to be more vulnerable to serious infection because of the older age of its population, higher rates of underlying medical conditions, lack of health insurance, and greater distance to an intensive care hospital. As of early February, death rates have started decreasing, possibly because of more widespread vaccinations among the most vulnerable populations. This chart updates data found in the February 2021 Amber Waves data feature, “Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from COVID-19.”

Nonmetro population change has remained near zero in recent years

Friday, October 30, 2020

The U.S. population in nonmetro (rural) counties stood at 46.1 million in July 2019, accounting for 14 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the Nation's land area. Nonmetro population growth has remained close to zero in recent years and was just 0.02 percent from July 2018 to July 2019, according to the latest county population estimates from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. As in previous periods of economic difficulties, such as in the mid-1980s and early 2000s, nonmetro America experienced a steep decline in population growth rates during the Great Recession. Unlike those previous periods of difficulty, the post-recession population recovery during the 2010s has been quite slow. Nonmetro population growth fell from a peak of 0.7 percent in 2006-07 to -0.14 percent in 2011-12. The nonmetro growth rate has been lower than in metropolitan (metro) counties since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years. This chart appears in the July 2020 Amber Waves data feature, “Modest Improvement in Nonmetro Population Change During the Decade Masks Larger Geographic Shifts.”

Racial and ethnic minorities made up about 22 percent of the rural population in 2018, compared to 43 percent in urban areas

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Rural America is less racially and ethnically diverse than the Nation’s urban areas. In 2018, Whites accounted for 78.2 percent of the rural population compared to 57.3 percent of urban areas. While Hispanics were the fastest-growing segment of the rural population, they accounted for only 8.6 percent of rural areas, but 19.8 percent of urban areas. Blacks made up 7.8 percent of the rural and 13.1 percent of the urban population. American Indians were the only minority group with a higher concentration in rural areas (2.1 percent) than urban (0.4 percent). Relatively few Asians and Pacific Islanders (included in the “Other” category) were rural residents, with these groups accounting for 0.9 and 0.05 percent of the rural population, respectively. The rest of the “Other” category reported multiple races and accounted for 2.2 percent of the rural population. This chart updates data found in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

More COVID-19 cases per capita in U.S. metro than nonmetro areas, but the share of cases in nonmetro areas is increasing

Friday, October 2, 2020

COVID-19 has spread to nearly every nation in the world, and to every State and nearly every county in the United States. The virus initially spread most rapidly to large metropolitan areas, and most confirmed cases are still in metro areas with populations of at least 1 million, according to the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) analysis of data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for System Science and Engineering. This is consistent with most of the U.S. population living in large metro areas. Even in per capita terms, the prevalence of COVID-19 cases has been greater in metro than in nonmetro areas since the initial appearance of the pandemic in the United States (the first confirmed case was reported on January 20, 2020). As of September 1, cumulative confirmed cases per 100,000 residents reached 1,877 in metro areas, compared with 1,437 cases in nonmetro areas. Although the prevalence of COVID-19 cases remains lower in nonmetro areas, the share of cases in nonmetro areas has grown since late March. The nonmetro share of all confirmed U.S. COVID-19 cases grew from 3.6 percent on April 1 to 11.1 percent on September 1. ERS regularly produces research on rural America, including demographic changes in rural communities and drivers of rural economic performance. This chart appears in the ERS topic page, The COVID-19 Pandemic and Rural America, updated September 2020.

Rural poverty rates dropped across all race/ethnicity groups between 2013 and 2018

Monday, August 17, 2020

In 2013, rural poverty reached a 30-year peak at 18.4 percent of the rural population. Between 2013 and 2018, the rural poverty rate fell 2.3 percentage points, a decline of about 1 million rural residents in poverty. Rural poverty rates declined for all race/ethnicity groups. The rural Black population showed the largest decline in poverty rates, from 37.3 percent in 2013 to 31.6 percent in 2018. Despite this decrease, Blacks continued to have the highest poverty rate among all rural race/ethnicity groups. While Blacks made up 7.6 percent of the rural population, they accounted for 14.9 percent of the rural poor in 2018. American Indians had the second-highest poverty rate (30.9 percent) among all rural race/ethnicity groups in 2018, 3.5 percentage points lower than in 2013. Hispanics had the lowest poverty rate among rural minority groups (23.8 percent) in 2018, an improvement of 4.4 percentage points from 2013. Whites have historically had a much lower rural poverty rate (14.0 percent in 2018), and their rate fell 1.9 percentage points from 2013 to 2018. However, the majority of the rural poor are White. Whites account for 84.8 percent of the overall rural population and 73.4 percent of the rural population in poverty in 2018. This chart updates data that appeared in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

Counties with low educational attainment were concentrated in rural areas

Monday, July 13, 2020

Between 2014 and 2018, the United States had 316 counties with low levels of educational attainment, meaning 20 percent or more of working-age adults (ages 25-64) living in the county lacked a high school diploma or equivalent. The majority of those counties—about 4 out of 5—were in rural (nonmetro) areas. Low-education rural counties were predominantly in the South (nearly 80 percent or 208 counties) and the economies of more than one-third (116 counties) relied on farming or manufacturing. Nearly half (156 counties) were high poverty counties, with a poverty rate of 20 percent or more, and most of those counties (113 counties) also had persistently high poverty over three or more decades. In addition, almost 60 percent of low-education rural counties were in areas where African Americans alone (70 counties) or Hispanics of any race (115 counties) accounted for 20 percent or more of the total population. In these counties, the low-education rates for African Americans or Hispanics were substantially higher than corresponding rates for white (non-Hispanic) individuals. This chart appears on the ERS topic page for Rural Education, updated May 2020.

As the rural veteran population declined, the share that were age 65 or older increased

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Veterans are a rapidly aging and increasingly diverse group, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the rural adult population in 2018. However, the number of veterans living in rural (nonmetro) areas has declined from 6.6 million in 1992 to 3.2 million in 2018. This decline was due largely to a drop in the size of the active military population (from about 3 million in 1992 to 1.3 million in 2018), natural decrease due to aging, and a tendency for younger veterans to settle in urban (metro) areas. Nearly 60 percent of rural veterans were ages 65 or older in 2018, and half of that group were ages 75 or older. By comparison, in 1992, the share of rural veterans age 65 or older was closer to 30 percent. This trend suggests that the number of rural veterans may continue to decline in the future. In addition, whether due to their military service or because of their age profile, over 30 percent of rural veterans reported having a disability in 2018, compared with about 15 percent of nonveterans. Older age and a higher incidence of disabilities may make rural veterans, as a group, increasingly vulnerable. This chart updates data found in the Economic Research Service report, Rural Veterans at a Glance, released November 2013.

All counties with extreme poverty in 2018 were rural (nonmetro) counties

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

In 2018, the United States had 664 high-poverty counties, where an average of 20 percent or more of the population had lived below the Federal poverty level on average over 2014-18. The majority were rural (78.9 percent, or 524 counties). These high-poverty counties represented about one of every four rural counties, compared with about one of every ten urban counties. Fifteen of the 664 counties were extreme poverty areas, where the poverty rate was 40 percent or greater. The extreme poverty areas were also persistent poverty counties, with poverty rates of at least 20 percent over the past 30 years. In 2018, all of the extreme poverty counties were in rural America. These counties are not evenly distributed, but rather are geographically concentrated and disproportionately located in regions with above-average populations of racial minorities. Several extreme poverty counties, for instance, were found in Mississippi, including four counties where there has historically been a high incidence of poverty among the African-American population. These counties were also found in South Dakota, with six counties where Native Americans made up more than 50 percent of the population. This chart appears on the Economic Research Service topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated February 2020. It is also in the May 2020 Amber Waves article, “Extreme Poverty Counties Found Solely in Rural Areas in 2018.”

Highest U.S. poverty rates are in the South, with over 20 percent poor in its rural areas

Friday, March 13, 2020

People living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain U.S. regions, counties, and neighborhoods, rather than being spread evenly across the Nation. Poverty rates in rural (nonmetro) areas have historically been higher than in urban (metro) areas, and the rural/urban poverty gap is greater in some regions of the country than others. At the regional level, poverty is disproportionately concentrated in the rural South. In 2014-18, the South had an average rural poverty rate of 20.5 percent—nearly 6 percentage points higher than the average rate in the region’s urban areas. An estimated 42.7 percent of the Nation’s rural population and 51.3 percent of the Nation’s rural poor lived in this region between 2014 and 2018. By comparison, 37.1 percent of the urban population and 39.4 percent of the urban poor lived in the South during that period. The poverty gap was smallest in the Midwest and the Northeast—with less than a percentage point difference between rural and urban poverty rates. This chart appears on the Economic Research Service topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated February 2020.

Business & Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loans reduced risk of rural business failure

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

USDA’s Business and Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loan Program guarantees loans to businesses in rural areas in partnership with private-sector lenders. By reducing lenders’ risk, the program encourages lenders to provide more generous terms or larger principal amounts, or to approve loans to rural businesses that they otherwise might not make. ERS researchers estimated business survival rates between 1990 and 2013 for B&I loan recipients and a comparison group of non-recipients similar to loan recipients. On average, 2 years after receiving a B&I loan, recipients were 90 percent less likely to fail in the next year than the group of similar non-recipients. The effect of B&I loans on survival rates declined with time. Nevertheless, 4 years after receiving a B&I loan, recipients were still 79 percent less likely to fail in the next year than similar non-recipients. And 6 years after receiving a B&I loan, recipients were 72 percent less likely to fail in the next year than similar non-recipients. The B&I Loan Program’s strong effects on business survival suggest that the program has helped retain existing jobs in local communities. This chart appears in the September 2019 Amber Waves finding, “Rural Businesses That Receive USDA Business and Industry Guaranteed Loans Less Likely To Fail.”

ICYMI... Rural families headed by single adults had higher poverty rates than urban counterparts in 2017

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Family type has a significant bearing on poverty. For example, families headed by two adults are likely to have more sources of income than single-adult families—and are therefore less likely to be poor. In 2017, nearly 33.8 percent of rural families headed by a female with no spouse present and 18.5 percent of those headed by a male with no spouse present fell below the poverty threshold. In contrast, 6 percent of rural families with a married couple were poor. On average, 11.6 percent of all rural families were poor. Poverty rates for single-adult families were higher than average for urban area residents as well in 2017, but overall family poverty rates were higher in rural than in urban areas. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated March 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published May 29, 2019.

Veterans in agriculture more likely to be self-employed than those with no military service

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Between 2013 and 2017, there was an average of 18.9 million military veterans and 4.3 million persons on active duty or serving in the reserves or National Guard. Together, they accounted for 9.4 percent of the U.S. population 18 years and older. Military veterans and service members are well-positioned to be in agriculture, contributing to the development, growth and success of farming, agribusiness, and rural communities. Between 2013 and 2017, military veterans and service members represented 8.6 percent (or 270 thousand) of the 3.1 million persons working or trained in agriculture. Similar to their counterparts with no military experience, they were involved in agriculture across a range of agricultural occupations, industries, and fields of educational attainment. However, military veterans and service members represented a more diverse class of agricultural worker than did those without military service. Military veterans and service members in agriculture (about 46 percent) were more likely to be self-employed in their own business, professional practice, or on a farm—compared to 25 percent of people in agriculture without military service. They were also more likely to be a government employee or to work without pay in a family business or on a farm, whereas the latter were predominantly employees of a business or individual for wages, salaries, or commissions. This chart updates data found in the report Rural Veterans at a Glance.

Poverty rates in 2017 were highest for children, particularly among those living in rural areas

Monday, November 4, 2019

U.S. poverty rates differ by age group. In 2017, the difference between rural and urban poverty rates was greatest for children under the age of 5 (26.0 percent in rural areas versus 19.3 percent in urban areas). Federal poverty thresholds vary by household composition. For a family of two adults and one child, the poverty line in 2017 was an annual income of $19,730. Overall, child poverty rates under age 18 were 22.8 percent in rural areas and 17.7 percent in urban areas. In contrast, the poverty rates for senior adults (age 65 and older) were much closer at 10.1 percent in rural areas and 9.1 percent in urban areas. Working age adults (ages 18–64) followed the pattern of other age-groups, in that they had higher poverty rates in rural areas (16.0 percent) than in urban areas (12.1 percent). Poverty rates do not indicate how long individuals have experienced poverty. Some families cycle into and out of poverty over time, while others are persistently poor. Persistent poverty among children is of particular concern, as the cumulative effects may lead to poor health, limited education, and other negative outcomes. Also, research suggests that the more time a child spends in poverty or living in a high-poverty area, the greater the chance of being poor as an adult. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated March 2019.

ICYMI... Historic Midwest flooding in Spring 2019 severely impacted rural counties in Iowa and Nebraska

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

In March 2019, historic flooding led to a major disaster declaration covering 121 counties in Iowa and Nebraska. The disaster declaration covers nearly half of the population in Iowa and 93 percent of the population in Nebraska. Of the 3.3 million people living in one of the designated disaster counties in 2017, over 37 percent (1.2 million) lived in rural areas. In 2017, Iowa and Nebraska were the second- and fourth-ranked States, respectively, in agricultural cash receipts. Iowa also ranked second in total agricultural exports and was the top exporter of soybeans, pork, corn, and feed grains. Nebraska led the Nation in beef and veal exports, and ranked third among States in corn, processed grain products, and feed grain exports. Based on the 2017 Census of Agriculture, designated disaster counties produced 66 percent of the market value of agricultural products sold in Iowa and 75 percent of those sold in Nebraska. Together, the designated disaster counties accounted for 9.2 percent of the total U.S. market value of agricultural products sold in 2017. This chart uses data from the ERS State Facts Sheet data product, updated March 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published April 25, 2019.

SNAP redemptions had larger effect on county employment during the Great Recession than before or after

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provided benefits to an average of more than 46 million recipients per month and accounted for 52 percent of USDA’s spending in 2014. That year, SNAP recipients redeemed more than $69 billion worth of benefits. Recent ERS research estimated the effect of SNAP redemptions on county-level employment. During and immediately after the Great Recession (2008–10), each additional $10,000 in SNAP redemptions contributed on average 1.04 additional jobs in rural counties and 0.41 job in urban counties. By contrast, before the recession (2001–07), SNAP redemptions had a much smaller positive effect on employment in rural counties (about 0.25 job per $10,000 in redemptions) and a negative effect in urban counties (a loss of about 0.22 job per $10,000 in redemptions). After the recession (2011–14), SNAP redemptions had a statistically insignificant effect on employment in both rural and urban counties. Per dollar spent, the effect of SNAP redemptions on local employment during the recession was greater than the employment effect of other government transfer payments combined—including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance compensation, and veterans’ benefits—and also the employment effect of total Federal Government spending. SNAP’s relatively large effect on employment during the recession may owe to the fact that, unlike many other government programs, SNAP payments are provided directly to low-income people, who tend to immediately spend additional income. This chart uses data found in the May 2019 ERS report, The Impacts of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Redemptions on County-Level Employment. Also see the May 2019 article, “SNAP Redemptions Contributed to Employment During the Great Recession” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

ICYMI... 2018 Farm Act mandates spending of $428 billion over 5 years

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Act) was signed into law December 20, 2018, and will remain in force through the end of fiscal year 2023, although some provisions extend beyond 2023. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that the new Farm Act would mandate spending of $428 billion dollars over the next 5 fiscal years (2019-2023). A large majority of projected spending—76 percent ($326.02 billion)—would fund nutrition programs, with most going to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Crop insurance ($38.01 billion), farm commodity programs ($31.44 billion), and conservation programs ($29.27 billion) accounted for nearly all of the remaining outlays. Approximately 0.8 percent ($3.54 billion) would fund all other programs, including trade, credit, rural development, research and extension, forestry, energy, horticulture, and miscellaneous programs. Overall, the 2018 Farm Act made fewer changes to food and farm policy than the 2014 Farm Act. Nutrition policy, particularly SNAP, continued with minor changes. Crop insurance options and agricultural commodity programs continued largely as under the 2014 Farm Act. All major conservation programs continued, although some were modified significantly. This chart appears on the USDA Website page, “The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018: Highlights and Implications,” dated December 20, 2018. This Chart of Note was originally published January 28, 2019.

Rural population gains among Native Americans and Hispanics have offset population losses among Whites and Blacks

Friday, July 19, 2019

Rural America, with racial/ethnic minorities making up 22 percent of the population in 2016-17, has continued to diversify, but at a slower rate compared to 2012-13. The annual rate of population loss among rural Whites fell from -0.44 to -0.20 percent between 2012-13 and 2016-17. This change is likely due to changes in net migration, with fewer Whites moving out and more moving into rural areas in 2016-17 compared with 2012-13. The rural Black population continued to lose population in 2016-17 as well, but at a higher rate of loss than earlier (-0.20 versus -0.14 percent in 2012-13). Population gains among American Indians and Hispanics have offset population losses among Whites and Blacks. American Indians increased their rural population throughout the period but at diminishing rates, while the Hispanic rate of growth remained near 2 percent per year throughout the period. Although Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the rural population, they accounted for just 9 percent of the rural population in 2017 (compared to 80 percent for Whites). This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.

High rates of disability among farmers are concentrated in the South

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Farmers face various occupational hazards (such as machinery, livestock, and chemicals) that can lead to temporary or permanent disabilities. The U.S. Census Bureau defines disabilities as having at least one of the following health difficulties: vision, hearing, physical, cognitive, self-care (difficulty dressing or bathing), or independent living (difficulty performing errands, such as visits to the doctor’s office or shopping). Recent ERS research estimated that an average of about 20 percent of U.S. farmers (395,000 people) had a disability at some point between 2008 and 2016. The probability of disability among farmers increased with age but was lower for farmers who had higher education levels, were female (compared to male), or were married (compared to unmarried). The most common disabilities included physical (10 percent of farmers) and hearing (8 percent of farmers). Average disability rates varied by State. For example, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Iowa were in the quintile with the lowest disability rates on average (12.3 percent to 16.3 percent), while Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee were in that with the highest farmer disability rates (23.0 percent to 27.1 percent). This chart appears in the April 2019 Amber Waves finding, “Disabilities in the U.S. Farm Population.”

SNAP participation and benefits grew rapidly during and after the Great Recession

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest USDA program. During fiscal year 2014, it provided benefits to an average of more than 46 million recipients per month and accounted for 52 percent of USDA’s spending. That year, SNAP recipients redeemed more than $69 billion worth of benefits at SNAP-authorized stores—83 percent of which were located in urban areas and 17 percent in rural areas. Between fiscal years 2000 and 2013, average monthly SNAP participation nearly tripled, while the inflation-adjusted value of benefits paid under the program nearly quadrupled. The growth in program participation and the value of benefits paid were particularly rapid during and immediately after the Great Recession, which officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. However, the recession resulted in high poverty rates well after it officially ended. The increase in program spending between 2009 and 2013 was due in part to rising SNAP participation in response to high levels of poverty during this period. A temporary increase in benefit rates mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in early 2009 and other policies to increase access to the program also likely expanded SNAP participation and spending. This chart appears in the May 2019 ERS report Investigating Impacts of SNAP Redemptions on County-Level Employment. Also see the May 2019 article, “SNAP Redemptions Contributed to Employment During the Great Recession” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

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