ERS Charts of Note
Get the latest charts via email, or on our mobile app for and
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, May 29, 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.
Friday, April 19, 2019
Compared with traditional medical delivery systems, telehealth—personal health services or activities conducted through the internet—allows people to participate more actively in their health care. It also facilitates timely and convenient monitoring of ongoing conditions for those who may participate in connected telehealth practices. To better understand the factors affecting telehealth use, ERS researchers examined rural residents’ participation in three telehealth activities: online health research; online health maintenance (such as contacting providers, maintaining records, and paying bills); and online health monitoring (the transmission of data gathered by remote medical devices to medical personnel). Findings show that participation rates for telehealth activities varied in 2015. Many participants reported conducting only one telehealth activity, such as the 10.7 percent of participants who conducted only online health research. Some people conducted more than one telehealth activity, such as the 0.8 percent who conducted online health research, online health maintenance, and online health monitoring. The majority of participants who conducted both health maintenance and health monitoring also conducted online health research. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural Individuals' Telehealth Practices: An Overview.
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
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. For example, the gap has historically been largest in the South. In 2013–17, the South had an average rural poverty rate of 20.8 percent—nearly 6 percentage points higher than the average rate in the region’s urban areas. The difference in the South’s poverty rates is particularly important because an estimated 42.6 percent of the Nation’s rural population and 51.1 percent of the Nation’s rural poor lived in this region between 2013 and 2017. By comparison, 36.9 percent of the urban population and 39.1 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 ERS topic page “Rural Poverty & Well-being,” updated March 2019.
Monday, February 25, 2019
Rural parents often face challenges—such as a lack of jobs, physical isolation, and limited transportation choices—that may put their children at risk of being poor. That risk is greatest among single-parent families, particularly those headed by a female. Research shows that among family types, single parents are less likely to have an education beyond high school and are more likely to be without employment or to work in a job that is not secure or does not pay a living wage. In 2016, rural female-headed families with no spouse present made up 26 percent of all rural families with children and 60 percent of all rural families with children that were poor. The poverty rate for rural female-headed families was 46 percent, compared with about 23 percent for rural male-headed (no spouse) families and 9 percent for rural married-couple families with children. These rates were nearly unchanged from 2007, indicating the persistently high likelihood of remaining in poverty for rural children in single-parent families. The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the source of this data, does not include sufficient information to explore the economic status of households headed by unmarried partners, which other ERS research has shown to be important for the study of rural child poverty. This chart appears in the July 2018 Amber Waves data feature, "Child Poverty Heavily Concentrated in Rural Mississippi, Even More So Than Before the Great Recession.”
Monday, June 11, 2018
Rural Americans living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain U.S. regions and counties. Rural (nonmetro) counties with a high incidence of poverty are mainly concentrated in the South, which had an average poverty rate of over 21 percent between 2012 and 2016. By comparison, urban (metro) counties in the South had an average poverty rate of about 16 percent. Rural counties with the most severe poverty are found in historically poor areas of the Southeast—including the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia—as well as on Native American lands. The incidence of rural poverty is relatively low elsewhere, but generally more widespread than in the past. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated April 2018.
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 appeared in the ERS topic page for Income, updated June 2017.
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.
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.
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.
Friday, August 12, 2016
Using data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and a modified official poverty measure, ERS researchers found that rural child poverty rose from 18.7 percent in 2003 to 22.1 percent in 2014. The bulk of this 3.4-percentage point increase—3.2 percentage points—was due to rising income inequality, and not a decline in average incomes. A portion of this increase in inequality, in turn, was driven by changing rural demographics. An increase in the number of children in the average rural family raised poverty by 0.6 percentage points, while declines in the number of adults of prime working age and in the share of household heads that were married raised rural child poverty by 0.9 and 0.7 points, respectively. A slight increase in the average age of the household head helped reduce rural child poverty by 0.5 percentage points. The most beneficial demographic change was a rise in the share of rural household heads with a college degree, which rose from 15.8 to 19.5 percent, helping to reduce child poverty by 0.9 percentage points. The net impact of all these demographic changes was to contribute 0.9 percentage points towards the increase in rural child poverty. This chart is based on a data table found in the May 2016 Amber Waves feature, “Understanding Trends in Rural Child Poverty, 2003-14.”
Friday, June 17, 2016
By 2014, average income (adjusted for inflation) for all U.S. families with children exceeded prerecession levels, and average income had almost completely recovered for all rural families with children as well. For the bottom 25 percent of rural families (when ranked by income), however, average income remained considerably below its prior peak. In 2003, the average income for families in this lowest income quartile was $17,200 (in 2014 dollars) and it fell by 6.0 percent between 2003 and 2007, despite the fact that the U.S. economy was growing. Not surprisingly, incomes for the bottom quartile fell by another 4.6 percent between 2007 and 2010, due to the Great Recession (December 2007-June 2009). When economic growth resumed, however, it did not immediately translate into growth for these low-income rural families: by 2012, their average income had fallen by another 10.1 percent. Average income for the bottom quartile rebounded somewhat between 2012 and 2014, but remained 13.4 percent below the 2003 level. This chart is based on the Amber Waves feature, “Understanding Trends in Rural Child Poverty, 2003-14.”
Friday, May 27, 2016
The number of veterans living in rural areas has been falling at an increasing rate, dropping from about 4.5 million in 2007 to 3.4 million in 2014, despite an influx of more than 100,000 post-9/11 veterans over the same period. This overall decline was largely due to natural decrease in the pre-Vietnam era population. The World War II rural veteran cohort alone declined by more than 400,000, with additional losses among all other service cohorts. Despite these declines, veterans continue to be overrepresented in rural America. In 2014, rural areas accounted for 17.5 percent of the total veteran population but only 14.7 percent of the U.S. civilian adult population. However, the rural share of the veteran population has been declining and is likely to decline further in the near future, as the newest veteran cohorts have overwhelmingly returned to urban areas and the current rural veteran population ages. Find county-level maps and data on the U.S. veteran population in ERS’s Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Between 2003 and 2014, the percent of children living in poverty as measured by ERS researchers increased by 3.4 percentage points in rural areas and 3.0 percentage points in urban areas. Changes in rural and urban average household income between these two dates were small, and had little effect on child poverty rates. Instead, most of the rise in child poverty was the result of an increase in income inequality, meaning that lower income families fared worse than average. In rural areas, 1.2 percentage points of increased child poverty could be attributed to changes in family characteristics and other demographic factors, including a decline in the share of children living in married-couple families, a slight decline in the number of working-age adults per family, and a slight rise in the number of children per family. The remaining increase—accounting for 1.9 percentage points in increased child poverty—reflects rising inequality within demographic categories. For urban children, family characteristics and other demographic factors had little net effect on child poverty. This chart is based on the ERS report, Understanding the Rise in Rural Child Poverty, 2003-2014, released May 16, 2016.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
The education of workers is closely linked with economic success. Workers with educations beyond high school degrees are more likely to be employed and earning higher wages than workers with high school degrees or less education. Educational attainment of both men and women in rural areas has grown over time, and rural women are more likely to have some college experience or hold associate or bachelor’s degrees than rural men. For example, the most recent (2014) American Community Survey shows that 63 percent of rural young women (age 25-34) had schooling beyond a high school diploma, compared with less than half (47 percent) of rural young men; nearly a quarter of rural young women held a bachelor’s degree or higher. The gender-education gap beyond a high school diploma for rural young adults has widened, from 11 percentage points in 2000 to 16 percentage points in 2014. This gap is more pronounced in rural areas than in the nation as a whole. This chart is based on the ERS Rural Employment & Education topic page.
Thursday, March 3, 2016
The proportion of adults lacking a high school diploma or equivalent declined in rural America (defined here as nonmetro counties), from 32 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2014. The proportion of rural adults with college degrees also increased from 12 to 19 percent during that time. Despite these overall gains, educational attainment varies widely across rural areas. ERS’s latest county typology classifies low-education counties as those where at least one of every five working-age adults (age 25-64) has not completed high school. In an average of data over 2008-12, ERS identified 467 low-education counties in the United States, 367 of which were rural. Eight out of 10 of all low-education counties are located in the South. Three-fourths of rural low-education counties also qualified as low-employment in the latest ERS county typology. Over 40 percent of rural low-education counties were both low-employment and persistently poor, reflecting the difficulty that adults without high school diplomas have in finding and retaining jobs that pay enough to place them above the poverty line. This map is part of the ERS data product on County Typology Codes, released December 2015.