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Urban areas offer higher earnings for workers with higher levels of education

Friday, September 7, 2018

The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey show that workers with higher levels of education had higher median earnings, both in rural and urban areas. For example, median earnings for rural working adults with a high school diploma were $27,773 in 2016, which was $6,243 more than the median for rural working adults without a high school diploma or equivalent. 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. This rural-urban earnings gap was lowest ($350) for workers with less than a high school diploma or equivalent and largest ($18,273) for those with graduate or professional degrees. 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 on the ERS topic page for Rural Education, updated August 2018.

Elder veterans tend to reside in rural counties and near military bases

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Veterans constitute a rapidly aging and increasingly diverse group disproportionally living in rural America. Nearly 18 percent of veterans lived in rural (nonmetro) counties in 2015, compared to 15 percent of the U.S. adult civilian population. Veterans were also overrepresented in some rural counties: about 10 percent of all rural civilian adults were veterans, but in some rural counties, that share reached as high as 25 percent. The U.S. counties with the highest shares of veterans tended to have significant concentrations of elder veterans (65 years or older), relative to the Nation as a whole. About 24 percent of all U.S. counties—often completely rural counties not adjacent to metro areas—had concentrations of elder veterans. By comparison, 28 percent of all U.S. counties—predominantly large urban counties (not shown)—contained concentrations of working-age veterans (18 to 65 years old). Areas with concentrations of both groups were mostly in rural counties adjacent to metro areas (19 percent). Many of these counties contained or were near military installations, reserve bases, or training areas. This chart appears in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, “Veterans Are Positioned To Contribute Economically to Rural Communities.”

Rural poverty remains regionally concentrated

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.

Rural economies depend on different industries

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

On May 29, 2018, the Chart of Note article “Rural economies depend on different industries” was reposted to correct the industry classification of a few counties and, in the legend, show the number of rural counties only, instead of all counties.


Rural counties depend on different industries to support their economies. Counties’ employment levels are more sensitive to economic trends that strongly affect their leading industries. For example, trends in agricultural prices have a disproportionate effect on farming-dependent counties, which accounted for nearly 20 percent of all rural counties and 6 percent of the rural population in 2017. Likewise, the boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production that peaked in 2012 increased employment in many mining-dependent rural counties. Meanwhile, the decline in manufacturing employment has particularly affected manufacturing-dependent counties, which accounted for about 18 percent of rural counties and 22 percent of the rural population in 2017. This chart is based on the ERS data product for County Typology Codes, updated May 2017.

A hypothetical increase in U.S. agricultural exports is estimated to add rural jobs across different agri-food sectors

Friday, May 18, 2018

ERS estimates that U.S. agricultural exports, totaling about $135 billion in 2016, supported about 1.1 million full-time, civilian jobs. Using a model of the U.S. economy with a base year of 2013, ERS researchers found that a hypothetical 10-percent increase in foreign demand for U.S. agricultural exports would add about 41,500 jobs, or about a 0.03-percent increase in total U.S. employment. About 42 percent would be in rural areas—where employment in agriculture and food manufacturing would increase by about 18,200 jobs, while employment in other sectors would decrease by nearly 700 jobs as some labor shifts into agriculture. The net effect on employment was positive for 17 of the 20 agri-food sectors in the analysis, with the largest increases in field crops, livestock, and poultry and egg. This reflects the large initial shares of exports and employment in these sectors, relative to other agri-food sectors. Field crops alone accounted for nearly 57 percent of the increase in agri-food rural employment. This chart is based on data that appears in the April 2017 ERS report The Potential Effects of Increased Demand for U.S. Agricultural Exports on Metro and Nonmetro Employment.

Rural child poverty was most concentrated in the Mississippi Delta

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

About one in four (23.5 percent) rural children in the United States were poor in 2016, compared to about one in five (20.5 percent) of urban children. Forty-one counties in the U.S. had child poverty rates of 50 percent or higher on average between 2012 and 2016. Thirty-eight of these counties were rural (nonmetro) counties, heavily clustered in the South (31 out of 38). The rural counties with the highest child poverty rates were Mellette County, South Dakota (70.9 percent); Issaquena County, Mississippi (68.7 percent); and East Carroll Parish, Louisiana (68.4 percent). Thirteen of the rural counties with child poverty rates of 50 percent or higher were in Mississippi—mainly along the Mississippi Delta region where child poverty rates have been persistently high, particularly among the black or African American child population. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated April 2018.

Rural America ends first-ever period of population loss

Monday, April 2, 2018

Between July 2016 and July 2017, rural (nonmetro) counties increased in population for the first time this decade, according to the most recent estimates released last month by the U.S. Census Bureau. The shift in rural population change was quite small, from a loss of 15,000 people in 2015-16 to a gain of 33,000 in 2016-17. However, it continues an upward trend in all but one year since 2011-12, when rural counties declined by 61,000 people. Population growth rates for rural areas have been significantly lower than in urban (metro) areas since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably after the housing-market crisis in 2007 and the Great Recession that followed. The gap between rural and urban growth rates has narrowed slightly in recent years, but remains significant. Urban areas grew by 0.82 percent in 2016-17, compared with 0.07 percent growth in rural areas. The recovery in population growth for rural America during this decade has been much more gradual compared with previous rural population downturns. This chart updates data found in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Rural Areas Show Overall Population Decline and Shifting Regional Patterns of Population Change."

Substantive innovation present in wholly rural single-unit firms

Wednesday, March 28, 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 researchers found a higher prevalence of substantive innovators in urban (metro) areas. Over 31 percent of urban establishments (100 employees or more) were classified as substantive innovators, compared with nearly 23 percent of rural (nonmetro) establishments. This gap may reflect the potential innovation advantages stemming from denser business and consumer networks in urban areas. Researchers also examined the substantive innovation rates of single-unit firms to determine whether substantive innovation in rural areas was truly a rural phenomenon—not just innovation strategies of national or multi-national firms with rural production locations. About 20 percent of single-unit firms in rural areas were classified as substantive innovators, compared to nearly 23 percent overall, confirming that some wholly rural firms are pursuing more far-ranging innovation. 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.

Employment in rural inpatient healthcare facilities was relatively more concentrated in the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Rural inpatient healthcare facilities—such as general hospitals, nursing care facilities, and residential mental health facilities—can improve the health and economic well-being of local communities. At its peak in 2011, rural inpatient healthcare employment reached over 1.25 million wage and salary jobs, or about 8.5 percent of total rural (wage and salary) employment. However, employment in the rural inpatient healthcare sector varies by region. Between 2001 and 2015, rural counties with the most inpatient healthcare facility jobs per resident were concentrated in the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains. Regions with fewer inpatient healthcare jobs per resident include much of the West, the Southern Great Plains, and the South. The regional variation in rural healthcare employment per resident may reflect in part the relatively heavier dependence of some sparsely populated areas on hospital employment, and the difficulty many rural communities face in attracting and retaining physicians and other healthcare professionals. One study found, for example, that over 85 percent of rural counties had a shortage of primary care health professionals in 2005. Additionally, between January 2010 and December 2016, 78 rural hospitals closed—about 4 percent of the 1,855 total rural hospitals. This chart appears in the ERS report, Employment Spillover Effects of Rural Inpatient Healthcare Facilities, released November 2017.

Elder veterans relied more on agriculture for employment, while working age veterans relied more on manufacturing

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Nearly 19 million veterans lived in the United States in 2015. Almost 18 percent of them lived in rural (nonmetro) counties, compared to 15 percent of the U.S. adult civilian population. About 45 percent of rural veterans were working age (18 to 64 years old); the rest were elder veterans (65 years or older). Overall, about 21 percent of elder rural veterans reported currently working (full- or part-time) or having last worked (if retired or unemployed) in the agriculture industry. By comparison, less than 3 percent of working-age veterans reported the same. Instead, working-age veterans relied more on the manufacturing industry for employment. About 19 percent of working age veterans reported currently working or having last worked in manufacturing, compared to 7 percent of elder veterans. Both working age and elder veterans relied about equally for employment in some industries—including education and health, wholesale and retail trade, and construction. This chart appears in the September 2017 Amber Waves data feature, "Veterans Are Positioned To Contribute Economically to Rural Communities."

Rural poverty is regionally concentrated, and expanded since the Great Recession to 71 new high-poverty counties

Monday, January 29, 2018

Rural poverty is regionally entrenched, especially in the South where nearly 22 percent of rural (nonmetro) residents live in families with below-poverty incomes. Rural poverty is also entrenched in parts of the Southwest and northern Great Plains. Over 300 rural counties (15 percent of all rural counties) are persistently poor, compared with just 50 urban counties (4 percent of all urban counties). Many of these counties are not entirely poor, but rather contain multiple and diverse pockets of poverty and affluence. Rural poverty rates rose during the Great Recession and in initial post-recession years. Persistent poverty is currently measured from 1980 to 2007-11, which captures the effects of the Great Recession (2007-09). More recent data identifies 71 new high-poverty rural counties in 2011-15 that were not high poverty at any point from 1980 to 2007-11. Most of these new high-poverty counties were outside current persistent regions, including northern California and counties in the Southeast and Midwest that were affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs during the Great Recession. This chart appears in the ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2017 Edition, released November 2017.

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.

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.

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