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In recent years, population has declined in rural areas

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Population change includes two major components: natural change (births minus deaths) and net migration (in-migrants minus out-migrants). While natural change has gradually trended downward over time, net migration rates tend to fluctuate in response to economic conditions. Population growth from natural change (more births than deaths, also known as natural increase) was the norm historically. Between 2010 and 2016, however, the increase in rural population from natural change (270,000 more births than deaths) has not kept pace with the decrease in population from net migration (462,000 more people moved out than moved in). Declining birth rates, increasing mortality rates among working-age adults, and an aging population have led to the emergence of natural decrease (more deaths than births) in hundreds of U.S. counties—most of them rural. This chart appears in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Rural Areas Show Overall Population Decline and Shifting Regional Patterns of Population Change."

Low education rural counties have worse economic outcomes on average than other rural counties

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Rural (nonmetro) counties with the lowest levels of educational attainment face worse economic outcomes on average than other rural counties. ERS classifies 467 counties as “low education” counties—those where at least 20 percent of working-age adults (ages 25 to 64) do not have a high school diploma or equivalent; nearly 80 percent of these counties are rural. About 40 percent of low education rural counties are also persistent poverty counties, with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher since 1980. Between 2011 and 2015, low education rural counties had an average poverty rate of 24 percent, compared to 16 percent for all other rural counties. Low education rural counties also had a higher average child poverty rate on average (34 percent) than for all other rural counties (23 percent). In addition, the unemployment rate of low education rural counties was about a percentage point higher. This chart appears in the April 2017 ERS report Rural Education at a Glance, 2017 Edition.

Manufacturing employment declines were highest in the Eastern United States between 2001 and 2015

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Manufacturing provides more jobs in rural America than many other sectors. In 2015, rural manufacturing jobs totaled 2.5 million, compared to 1.4 million farm jobs. Rural manufacturing jobs were also about equal to rural retail jobs, almost double rural construction jobs, and five times rural mining (including oil and gas extraction) jobs. However, U.S. manufacturing employment has been declining since the 1950s. Between 2001 and 2015—a period that included the recessions of 2001 and 2007-09—manufacturing employment fell by close to 30 percent. In addition, 71 percent of U.S. counties experienced a decline in manufacturing employment. Counties with the largest relative declines were concentrated in the Eastern United States, the traditional hub of U.S. manufacturing. In 2015, almost 20 percent of manufacturing jobs were located in rural counties. Factors such as globalization and rapid changes in technology have contributed to the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural Manufacturing at a Glance, released August 2017.

Rural median household income remains about 25 percent below the urban median

Thursday, July 20, 2017

In 2015, the median household income for rural (nonmetro) counties rose to $44,212, a 3.4 percent increase over the prior year. This was the second year in a row of rising real (adjusted for inflation) income for the median rural household, ending 6 years of income declines during and after the Great Recession of 2007-09. By comparison, urban (metro) median income has risen for 3 straight years, reaching $58,260 in 2015. However, these 2015 median incomes remain below their 2007 peaks of $45,816 for rural households and $60,661 for urban ones. Generally, rural median household income has remained about 25 percent below the urban median. Because the cost of living is generally lower in rural areas, the gap in purchasing power is likely smaller between rural and urban households. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Income, updated June 2017.

Services—such as finance, real estate, and administration—had the highest share of employment for both rural and urban areas in 2015

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

In 2015, every industry group, except for farming, employed more workers in urban (metro) areas than in rural (nonmetro) areas. However, the share of employment in each industry varied in each area. For example, farming—counting both self-employed operators and their hired workers—accounted for about 6 percent of all rural employment, compared to 1 percent in urban areas. Manufacturing also employed a larger share of the rural (11 percent) than the urban (6 percent) workforce. Services—such as finance, real estate, and administration—had the highest share of employment for both rural and urban areas. But urban areas had a higher share of employment in services: 57 percent compared to 41 percent in rural areas. Trade, transportation, and utilities had the second highest share of employment, about 17 percent for both rural and urban areas. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Employment and Unemployment, updated June 2017.

Urban areas offer higher earnings for workers with more education

Friday, July 7, 2017

The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey show that workers with higher levels of education had higher median earnings, both in rural and urban areas. Urban workers without a high school diploma earned about the same as their rural counterparts. However, at every higher level of educational attainment, the typical urban worker earned increasingly more than the typical rural worker with the same education. For example, the 2015 premium for working in an urban area was an estimated $2,088 a year for workers with a high school diploma—and $10,534 for those with a bachelor’s degree. Some studies suggest that higher urban earnings may encourage workers to leave rural areas, but factors like family ties and proximity to natural amenities (such as forest and lakes) may help keep or attract workers to rural areas. Educational attainment is only one of many potential characteristics that determine the wages that workers earn. Other characteristics not shown in the chart—such as work experience, job tenure, and ability—may also contribute to earnings. This chart appears in the July 2017 Amber Waves finding, "Urban Areas Offer Higher Earnings for Workers With More Education."

Rural population change varies across the United States

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The number of people living in rural (nonmetro) counties stood at 46.1 million in July 2016, representing 14 percent of U.S. residents. Population in rural counties continued to decline slightly for a sixth straight year in 2015-16, according to the Census Bureau’s latest estimates. Rural population loss has been relatively small—192,000 fewer people in 2016 compared with 2010, a decline of just 0.4 percent. However, this overall trend masks substantial regional and local variation. Population declined by 790,000 people in the 1,350 rural counties that lost population since 2010. Extensive population-loss regions are evident throughout the Eastern United States. On the other hand, 466 rural counties grew at moderate rates (below the national average of 4.5 percent) and added 245,000 people. Many of these counties are located in recreation or retirement destinations, such as in the Intermountain West or southern Appalachia. The remaining 160 rural counties that increased at rates above 4.5 percent added 353,000 people. The highest rates of growth during 2010-16 occurred in rural counties with booming energy sectors, such as those centered in western North Dakota’s Williston Basin. However, these counties experienced a considerable population slowdown in 2015-16, in line with declines in oil and gas production. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Population & Migration, updated June 2017.

In 2015, annual earnings in rural areas were 15 percent lower than earnings in urban areas

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Earnings generally differ between rural and urban areas, and by industry. In 2015, overall annual earnings were 15 percent lower in rural areas. The gap between rural and urban earnings was largest in the producer service sector—which includes industries such as finance, insurance, and real estate; information; and professional, administrative, and related services. For example, rural information workers earned about $20,000 less than their urban counterparts in 2015. Producer service firms in urban areas employ more professional and managerial workers, contributing to the earnings premium in urban areas. The rural-urban earnings gap was also relatively large in manufacturing, where rural areas have long been associated with lower skill, less technically advanced operations. Still, median earnings in rural manufacturing are above those for any other rural sector except for mining. The relatively high earnings in manufacturing jobs explain the continued emphasis that many rural stakeholders place on attracting or retaining these jobs. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2016 Edition, released November 2016.

Nonmetro counties in the majority of States would gain jobs from increased demand for U.S. agricultural exports

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

U.S. agricultural exports support about 1.1 million full-time, civilian jobs, according to 2017 ERS estimates (based on 2015 data). A recent ERS study considered how U.S. employment might be affected if the demand for these exports increased even further. To find out, ERS researchers used a computational model of the U.S. economy to explore the possible effects of a hypothetical 10-percent increase in foreign demand for U.S. agricultural products. The findings were broken apart between results for metro counties with less direct agricultural activity and nonmetro counties, where most farming occurs. Of the 47 states with nonmetro counties, 39 were estimated to gain jobs from an increase in export demand. The current level of employment in the agri-food sector (agricultural production plus food and beverage manufacturing) was a key factor in explaining the size of the simulation’s regional employment effects. There were 16 nonmetro regions where the agri-food sector accounted for more than 10 percent of total employment, ranging from nonmetro Iowa (11 percent) to Washington State (26 percent). As a group, these regions accounted for just 5 percent of U.S. employment but 32 percent of the total employment gain for the United States resulting from the simulated increase in agricultural exports. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, "Increased Demand for U.S. Agricultural Exports Would Likely Lead to More U.S. Jobs," released in June 2017.

Rural unemployment rates declined for all education levels from 2010 to 2015

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Unemployment rates for rural adults are lower for those with higher educational attainment. But during the Great Recession (shaded area of the chart), unemployment rates across all education levels roughly doubled between 2007 and 2010. Rural working-age adults (ages 25-64) without a high school diploma saw their unemployment rates climb the most, compared to those with higher educational attainment. For example, the difference in unemployment rates between rural working-age adults without a high school diploma and those with at least a bachelor’s degree grew from about 6 percentage points in 2007 to 11 percentage points in 2011. As the rural economy recovered, both rural and urban unemployment rates fell and trended toward pre-recession levels. For example, after peaking at about 15 percent in 2010, the unemployment rate of rural adults without a high school diploma dropped under 10 percent by 2015. The overall unemployment rate in 2015 was 5.7 percent in rural areas, compared to 5.2 percent in urban areas. This chart appears in the April 2017 ERS report Rural Education at a Glance, 2017 Edition.

Survival rates of manufacturing plants vary by county type and ownership structure

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Between the 2001 and 2007-09 recessions, U.S. manufacturing employment fell by close to 30 percent. In many communities, the closing of a manufacturing plant can reduce local employment, earnings, and government tax revenue. To improve understanding of the factors affecting the survival of manufacturing plants, ERS studied plant survival over a 15-year period (1996 to 2011). Over this period, the average survival rate—the share of plants that were still employers—in rural (nonmetro) counties was 57 percent. By comparison, plants in urban (metro) counties had an average survival rate of 53 percent during this period. Survival rates also varied by ownership structure: Overall, independent plants (single-unit plants with only one physical location) had a 59-percent survival rate, while multi-unit plants had a 50-percent survival rate. Independent plants located in rural counties had the highest average survival rate (62 percent). Although States and regions have long tended to put more effort into recruiting and retaining multi-unit plants, the research shows that independent plants are more likely to survive—in both rural and urban counties. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural Manufacturing Resilience: Factors Associated With Plant Survival, 1996-2011, released May 2017.

Rural education levels are improving, but still lag urban areas

Friday, April 7, 2017

Compared with rural (nonmetro) areas, urban (metro) areas have historically had a higher share of adults with bachelor’s, postgraduate, and professional degrees. Between 2000 and 2015, the share of urban adults with at least a bachelor’s degree grew from 26 to 33 percent, while in rural areas the share grew from 15 to 19 percent. This gap may be due to the higher pay offered in urban areas to workers with college degrees. Rural areas have improved in terms of high school completion: The share of rural adults with less than a high school diploma dropped to 15 percent in 2015, close to the share for urban adults (13 percent). The share of adults with an associate’s degree (and some college, no degree) was also similar in rural and urban areas. This chart appears in the April 2017 ERS report Rural Education at a Glance, 2017 Edition.

Over half of farmers had health insurance coverage through an employer

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Health insurance can help people and households manage the cost and uncertainty of healthcare expenses. Most Americans with health insurance coverage receive it through their employers, and farm households are no exception. Although many farm operators are self-employed, in the majority of farm households either the operator or spouse is employed off-farm. In 2015, more than half of farm household members had health insurance coverage through an employer—close to the rate for the overall U.S. population. Farmers reported similar rates to the general population in purchasing their health insurance directly from an insurance company—and are less likely to receive health insurance from a government-provided program, such as Medicare or Medicaid. Over 89 percent of farmers had some form of health insurance, similar to the general population (nearly 91 percent). This chart appears in the topic page for Health Insurance Coverage, updated December 2016.

Rural poverty remains regionally concentrated

Friday, March 3, 2017

Poverty is not evenly distributed throughout the United States. Americans living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain U.S. regions and counties. Nonmetro (rural) counties with a high incidence of poverty are mainly concentrated in the South, which had an average poverty rate of nearly 22 percent between 2011 and 2015. Rural counties with the most severe poverty are located in historically poor areas of the Southeast—including the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia—as well as on Native American lands, predominantly in the Southwest and North Central Midwest. The incidence of rural poverty is relatively low elsewhere, but generally more widespread than in the past due to a number of factors. For example, declining employment in the manufacturing sector since the 1980s contributed to the spread of poverty in the Midwest and the Northeast. Another factor is rapid growth in Hispanic populations over the 1990s and 2000s—particularly in California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, and Georgia. This group tends to be poorer than non-Hispanic whites. Finally, the 2007-09 recession resulted in more widespread rural poverty. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated February 2017.

Rural counties’ economies depend on different industries

Monday, January 23, 2017

Local economies and employment levels are more sensitive to economic trends that have a pronounced effect on their leading industries. For example, trends in agricultural prices have a disproportionate impact in farming-dependent counties, which accounted for nearly 20 percent of all rural counties and 6 percent of the rural population in 2015. The boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production increased employment in many mining-dependent rural counties; more recently, lower oil and gas prices have led to reduced oil exploration and economic activity in these counties. Meanwhile, the decline in manufacturing employment has particularly affected manufacturing-dependent counties, which accounted for about 18 percent of rural counties and 23 percent of the rural population. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2016 Edition, released November 2016.

Educational attainment rates remain lower for rural minorities

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Higher educational attainment is closely tied to economic well-being—through higher earnings, lower unemployment, and lower poverty. While educational attainment in rural America has improved over time, rural areas still lag urban areas in educational attainment. Moreover, within rural areas, educational attainment varies across racial and ethnic categories. In general, minority populations within rural areas have relatively less education. About a quarter of adults age 25 and over in the rural Black population, 20 percent of Native Americans/Alaska Natives, and almost 40 percent of rural Hispanics had not completed high school or the equivalent in 2015. These shares are considerably higher than for rural Whites, with 13 percent lacking a high school diploma. Lower attainment levels for minorities may both reflect and contribute to high rates of poverty. Childhood poverty is highly correlated with lower academic success and graduation rates, while lower educational attainment is strongly associated with lower earnings in adulthood. This chart updates data found in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2015 Edition, published November 2015.

Employment grows in 3 out of 5 rural counties

Monday, December 5, 2016

Employment grew in about 60 percent of rural counties (1,227 out of 1,976) between the first half of 2015 and the first half of 2016. Rural counties with rising employment levels were located in all regions of the country, but concentrated in the Midwest, the Southeast, and Pacific Northwest. Many counties with falling employment levels were located in States with significant oil and gas resources that had seen employment growth in past years, such as North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania; this trend reflects a recent decline in mining activity. Rural employment has risen modestly—including an increase of about 1.3 percent between 2013 and 2015—as the national economy has recovered since employment levels bottomed out in 2010. Employment grew another 0.5 percent between the end of 2015 and the second quarter of 2016, when it reached more than 20 million workers. Still, the overall rural employment level remains well below its pre-recession level. This map appears in the topic page for Rural Employment and Unemployment on the ERS website, updated November 2016.

Remoteness presents economic challenges for many American Indian and Alaska Native communities

Monday, November 21, 2016

Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population (2.3 million people) identify solely as American Indians or Alaska Natives, according to the latest Census population estimates. A third of American Indians and Native Americans live in counties where they make up 10 percent or more of the population. These 122 counties are located in either historic tribal areas or in areas of reservation resettlement. Almost all are sparsely populated rural counties located in remote regions of the country, such as Alaska, the American Southwest, the Great Plains, or along the Canadian border from Washington to Michigan. They include only two urbanized centers with 50,000 or more people: Flagstaff, Arizona and Farmington, New Mexico. High poverty and low employment prospects present considerable challenges to many American Indians and Alaska Natives living in remote settings. The unemployment rate in these counties was 6.6 percent in 2015 compared with 5.3 percent nationally. This map is based on data found in the Atlas of Rural and Small Town America, updated to 2015.

Differences between rural and urban economies reflect differences in their industrial composition

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Many of the differences between rural and urban economies reflect differences in their industrial composition. While service industries account for the largest share of jobs and earnings in both rural and urban areas, rural areas are more dependent on manufacturing and industries producing primary goods—such as farming, forestry, and mining. Industries producing primary goods provide more than 11 percent of rural jobs, but only 2 percent of urban jobs. Manufacturing accounts for nearly 15 percent of rural earnings and just over 9 percent of urban earnings. In contrast, urban areas are more heavily dependent on producer services—such as finance, insurance, and real estate—which account for about 28 percent of urban jobs, but less than 16 percent of rural jobs. The disparity in earnings is even greater: the producer services sector contributed 31 percent of urban earnings, but only about 12 percent of rural earnings. This difference reflects higher earnings per job in urban areas, where that sector provides more highly specialized services and employs more managerial and professional staff. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2016 Edition, released November 14, 2016.

Unemployment rate for rural veterans at its lowest since before the Great Recession

Monday, November 7, 2016

The unemployment rate for rural veterans has declined steadily since reaching its peak of 10.3 percent in 2010. In 2015, it stood at 5.0 percent, its lowest rate since the start of the 2007-09 recession. The unemployment rate for young rural veterans (ages 18 to 34) has seen a large decline too—from a high of 15.7 percent in 2009 to 7.9 percent in 2015. Young veterans often face high unemployment due to service-related disabilities and a lack of civilian work experience, which is a greater obstacle when the economy is weak. The recent drop in unemployment for all veterans partly stems from the post-recession national economic upturn. Public and private efforts that help veterans transition into the workplace quicker and into better paying jobs that fit with their skills have also reduced the time that veterans remain unemployed. These efforts include greater recognition of the skills veterans learn during their service—such as discipline and timeliness—and the value of those skills in the workplace. This chart provides an update to the ERS report, Rural Veterans at a Glance.

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