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About half of rural counties now experiencing more deaths than births

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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 counties. During 2010-16, 325 rural counties experienced sustained natural decrease for the first time, adding to 645 rural counties with natural decrease during 2000-09. Areas that recently began experiencing natural decrease (the dark blue areas) are found in New England, northern Michigan, and high-poverty areas in the southern Coastal Plains. Such counties also are found in and around the margins of Appalachia, expanding a large region of natural decrease extending from Maine through northern Alabama. Between 2000 and 2016, over a thousand rural counties still experienced population growth from natural increase (more births than deaths). This chart appears in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Rural Areas Show Overall Population Decline and Shifting Regional Patterns of Population Change."

Some rural manufacturing establishments have similar innovation rates as their urban peers

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Innovation—the introduction of new products or ways of doing business that consumers value—is widely regarded as an essential component of resilient local economies. Using a comprehensive measure of innovation, ERS research found 23 percent of rural establishments (with five or more employees) and 31 percent of urban establishments to be substantive innovators. Findings also suggest that substantive innovation in rural establishments in some industries are similar (not statistically different) to their urban peers. The similarity in innovation rates across manufacturing industries is particularly striking given presumed advantages of deeper supplier, customer, and information networks in urban areas. However, urban innovation advantages appear in the Services sector, which includes tradable industries such as wholesale trade, information, and financial services. This may reflect differences in the level of competition facing tradable services in rural and urban areas. This chart appears in the October 2017 Amber Waves finding, "Grassroots Innovation Widespread in Rural Areas, and Concentrated in Manufacturing."

Inpatient healthcare facilities had modest employment gains in rural areas, despite the effects of the Great Recession

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Rural inpatient healthcare facilities—such as general hospitals, nursing care facilities, and residential mental health facilities—can improve the health of local communities and provide jobs. From 2001 to 2015, inpatient healthcare facilities experienced modest employment gains in rural counties, despite the effects of the Great Recession. At its peak in 2011, inpatient healthcare employment represented over 1.25 million wage and salary jobs in rural areas. The growth of inpatient healthcare jobs in rural areas often exceeded the growth in several sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, and mining. Between 2007 and 2010, rural inpatient healthcare jobs rose by 26,000. Rural inpatient healthcare facilities accounted for 7.6 percent of wage and salary employment in 2001, rising to 8.1 percent by 2015. This chart appears in the ERS report Employment Spillover Effects of Rural Inpatient Healthcare Facilities, released December 2017.

Mortality rates have increased for working-age rural adults since 2000

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Increased mortality among working-age adults in rural (nonmetro) counties is a recent and unanticipated trend contributing to rural population decline. In the aggregate, rural mortality rates declined for all ages combined, from an average annual rate of 815 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999-2001 to 785 deaths in 2013-15. During that same period, rural mortality increased more than 20 percent for 25- to 29-year-olds, from 135 to 165 deaths per 100,000 people. Mortality rates also increased for rural adults between the ages of 20-24 and 30-54. In urban (metro) areas, increased mortality during the period was limited to adults ages 20 to 29. Rising rates of prescription medication abuse, especially of opioids, and the related rise in heroin-overdose deaths are contributing to this unprecedented rise in age-specific mortality rates after a century or more of steady declines. This trend, if it continues, will not only lower rural population but will also increase the dependency ratio: the number of people likely to not be working (children and retirees) relative to the number of working-age adults. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2017 Edition, released November 2017.

The share of households with wired broadband remains below 60 percent in nearly 800 rural counties, mostly in poor and remote regions

Friday, November 17, 2017

Internet service providers have been increasing access to broadband in rural areas by expanding DSL and cable technologies, wireless platforms, satellite systems, and (to a lesser extent) fiber-optic systems. Despite a slower growth rate in broadband subscriptions since 2010 compared with the previous decade, county-level data indicate that rural household connectivity continues to improve and expand geographically. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of rural counties in which wired broadband subscriptions exceeded the rural average (60 percent or more of households) increased from 281 to nearly 1,200. Rural counties newly above the 60-percent threshold for broadband are concentrated in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and the Intermountain West. Extensive parts of rural Appalachia also saw improvement in broadband access to above 60 percent. Broadband service remains more limited in two types of rural regions: (1) isolated, sparsely settled counties in the Great Plains, Nevada, New Mexico, Alaska, and elsewhere; and (2) high-poverty, high-minority regions, such as on tribal lands in the West and stretching from southern Virginia to east Texas in the South. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2017 Edition, released November 2017.

Rural veteran population continues to decline despite rise in post-9/11 veterans

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Over the last 10 years, the rural veteran population that served during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (known as post-9/11 veterans) more than doubled—rising from just under 200,000 in 2006 to over 400,000 in 2016. During the same period, their share of the total rural veteran population grew from about 4 to 13 percent. Despite that growth, the rural veteran population continued its trend of long-term decline, which has accelerated in recent years. This is likely due to the aging of the rural veteran population, the majority of whom last served during the Vietnam War (38 percent of all rural veterans in 2016). Between 2006 and 2016, the pre-9/11 rural veteran population decreased by 1.4 million (33 percent). That means that, even after accounting for the growth in the post-9/11 veteran cohort, the total rural veteran population shrank by 1.1 million people (about 26 percent). Given the relative size of the veteran population that served in prior conflicts—87 percent of nearly 3.2 million rural veterans in 2016—and future losses because of natural decrease (more deaths than births), it’s unlikely that an increase in post-9/11 veterans in the coming years will reverse the trend of rural veteran population decline. This chart updates data found in the ERS report Rural Veterans at a Glance, released November 2013.

Younger adults generally have higher educational attainment than older ones

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Americans are increasingly educated, but gains in educational attainment vary between urban and rural areas and across demographic groups such as age. In 2015, younger working-age adults generally had higher educational attainment. For example, 36 percent of urban adults ages 25 to 34 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 32 percent of those ages 45 to 64. Rural adults, on the other hand, had a bachelor’s degree or higher at roughly the same share (19 to 20 percent) across all age groups. Older age groups in both rural and urban areas generally had a higher share of adults with a high school diploma or less (the bottom two bar segments). About half of the rural adults ages 45 to 64 had a high school diploma or less, compared to 39 percent of their urban peers. This chart appears in the April 2017 ERS report Rural Education at a Glance, 2017 Edition.

Over half of manufacturing plants survived (still had paid employees) between 1996 and 2011

Friday, October 6, 2017

The number of U.S. manufacturing plants is declining, and plant startups and shutdowns are at their lowest since records began in 1977. Using a nationally representative sample of manufacturing plants, recent ERS research found that over half of plants survived (still had paid employees) between 1996 and 2011. Rural plants were slightly more likely to survive than those in urban counties: 57 percent versus 53 percent. Independent plants—single-unit manufacturing plants or firms with only one physical location—were more likely to survive than multi-unit plants. In rural counties, independent plants had an average survival rate of 62 percent, while multi-unit plants had a survival rate of 50 percent. Survival rates varied some by subsector, but rural textile mills and apparel product manufacturers had significantly lower survival rates (26 percent) than the average for all rural manufacturers (57 percent). This chart appears in the October 2017 Amber Waves feature, "Rural Manufacturing Survival and Its Role in the Rural Economy."

Rural veterans earned more than rural nonveterans in most industries in 2015

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Veterans tend to have higher earnings compared to nonveterans. In 2015, rural veterans who were full-time wage and salary workers had median earnings of about $50,000. That’s $11,000 more than the median earnings of their nonveteran counterparts. Earnings for veterans and nonveterans varied by industry, however. For example, compared to nonveterans, the median earnings for veterans was $29,000 higher in financial services, $20,000 higher in education and health, and $11,500 higher in transportation and utilities. Differences in median earnings by industry between veterans and nonveterans generally track closely with educational attainment. However, in 2015, even in industries where fewer veteran than nonveteran earners had a college degree, the median income for veterans was near or greater than that of nonveterans. This may be explained by a variety of factors, including differences in demographic composition and job skills. For example, veterans tend to be older and are predominantly male, and thus on average more likely to have higher earnings than the general population. This chart appears in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Veterans Are Positioned To Contribute Economically to Rural Communities."

Some rural establishments are as likely to be innovative as their urban peers

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Innovation is widely regarded as an essential component of resilient local economies. Using a comprehensive measure of innovation, ERS research found that some establishments in the rural (nonmetro) nonfarm economy are as likely to be innovative as their urban (metro) peers. About half of large rural and urban establishments (100 employees or more) were found to be substantive innovators. Among all establishments in manufacturing and service-providing industries characterized by high rates of patenting, the percentage of substantive innovators in rural and urban areas were also similar. However, an urban innovation advantage was evident for small (5-19 employees) and medium (20-99 employees) establishments. For example, the research found about 29 percent of medium-sized rural establishments to be substantive innovators, compared to 41 percent of their urban peers. This chart appears in the ERS report, Innovation in the Rural Nonfarm Economy: Its Effect on Job and Earnings Growth, 2010-2014, released September 2017.

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.

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