ERS Charts of Note
Friday, April 2, 2021
Since the late 1990s, an opioid epidemic has afflicted the U.S. population, particularly those in the prime working ages of 25-54. As a result, the National age-adjusted mortality rate from drug overdoses rose from 6.1 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 21.7 per 100,000 in 2017, then dipped to 20.7 per 100,000 in 2018 and rose back to 21.6 in 2019. Among the prime working age population, the drug overdose mortality rate was 37.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. This rate was exceeded only by cancer (39.2 deaths per 100,000) in 2019 as a major cause of death in this population. ERS researchers, examining the opioid epidemic from 1999 to 2018, observed two distinct phases: a “prescription opioid phase” (1999-2011) and a succeeding “illicit opioid phase” (2011-2018), marked especially by the spread of fentanyl and its analogs. Updated data show the second phase has extended into 2019. Mortality data indicate that in the prescription opioid phase, drug overdose deaths were most prevalent in areas with high rates of physical disability, such as central Appalachia. Rural residents, middle-age men and women in their 40s and early 50s were most affected, as were Whites and American Indian/Alaskan Natives. Opioid prescriptions ceased driving the epidemic in 2011 as increased regulation and greater awareness of prescription addiction problems took hold. The illicit opioid phase that followed involved primarily heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Fentanyl and its analogs are often used to spike other addictive drugs, including prescription opioids, creating powerful combinations that make existing drug addictions more lethal. During the study period, this second phase was concentrated in the northeastern United States, particularly in areas of employment loss. This phase most often involved urban young adult males, ages 25 to 39. All the racial/ethnic groups studied—Hispanics, Blacks, American Indian/Alaskan Natives, and Whites—were affected. This chart updates data found in the Economic Research Service report The Opioid Epidemic: A Geography in Two Phases, released April 2021.
Friday, March 19, 2021
During the initial COVID-19 surge between March and June 2020, large urban areas had the highest weekly death rates from the virus in the United States. Those numbers declined as medical professionals learned more about the virus, how to treat it, and how to prevent its spread. As the virus spread from major urban areas to rural areas, the second COVID-19 surge, from July to August 2020, brought more deaths to rural areas. The peak in deaths associated with this surge was smaller because testing was more widespread, the infected population was younger and less vulnerable, and treatments were more effective. However, in early September 2020, COVID-19 death rates in rural areas surpassed those in urban areas. This trend continued into a third, still ongoing, surge that spiked in rural areas during the holiday season and again shortly thereafter. Rural areas have shown higher death rates per 100,000 adults since September in part because they had higher rates of new infections than urban areas, but that is not the whole story. Rural COVID-19 deaths per 100 new infections 2 weeks prior (to account for the lag between infection and death) were 2.2 in the first 3 weeks of February—35 percent higher than the corresponding urban mortality rate of 1.6 deaths per 100 new infections 2 weeks earlier. The rural population appears to be more vulnerable to serious infection because of the older age of its population, higher rates of underlying medical conditions, lack of health insurance, and greater distance to an intensive care hospital. As of early February, death rates have started decreasing, possibly because of more widespread vaccinations among the most vulnerable populations. This chart updates data found in the February 2021 Amber Waves data feature, “Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from COVID-19.”
Friday, October 30, 2020
The U.S. population in nonmetro (rural) counties stood at 46.1 million in July 2019, accounting for 14 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the Nation's land area. Nonmetro population growth has remained close to zero in recent years and was just 0.02 percent from July 2018 to July 2019, according to the latest county population estimates from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. As in previous periods of economic difficulties, such as in the mid-1980s and early 2000s, nonmetro America experienced a steep decline in population growth rates during the Great Recession. Unlike those previous periods of difficulty, the post-recession population recovery during the 2010s has been quite slow. Nonmetro population growth fell from a peak of 0.7 percent in 2006-07 to -0.14 percent in 2011-12. The nonmetro growth rate has been lower than in metropolitan (metro) counties since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years. This chart appears in the July 2020 Amber Waves data feature, “Modest Improvement in Nonmetro Population Change During the Decade Masks Larger Geographic Shifts.”
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Rural America is less racially and ethnically diverse than the Nation’s urban areas. In 2018, Whites accounted for 78.2 percent of the rural population compared to 57.3 percent of urban areas. While Hispanics were the fastest-growing segment of the rural population, they accounted for only 8.6 percent of rural areas, but 19.8 percent of urban areas. Blacks made up 7.8 percent of the rural and 13.1 percent of the urban population. American Indians were the only minority group with a higher concentration in rural areas (2.1 percent) than urban (0.4 percent). Relatively few Asians and Pacific Islanders (included in the “Other” category) were rural residents, with these groups accounting for 0.9 and 0.05 percent of the rural population, respectively. The rest of the “Other” category reported multiple races and accounted for 2.2 percent of the rural population. This chart updates data found in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.
Friday, October 2, 2020
COVID-19 has spread to nearly every nation in the world, and to every State and nearly every county in the United States. The virus initially spread most rapidly to large metropolitan areas, and most confirmed cases are still in metro areas with populations of at least 1 million, according to the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) analysis of data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for System Science and Engineering. This is consistent with most of the U.S. population living in large metro areas. Even in per capita terms, the prevalence of COVID-19 cases has been greater in metro than in nonmetro areas since the initial appearance of the pandemic in the United States (the first confirmed case was reported on January 20, 2020). As of September 1, cumulative confirmed cases per 100,000 residents reached 1,877 in metro areas, compared with 1,437 cases in nonmetro areas. Although the prevalence of COVID-19 cases remains lower in nonmetro areas, the share of cases in nonmetro areas has grown since late March. The nonmetro share of all confirmed U.S. COVID-19 cases grew from 3.6 percent on April 1 to 11.1 percent on September 1. ERS regularly produces research on rural America, including demographic changes in rural communities and drivers of rural economic performance. This chart appears in the ERS topic page, The COVID-19 Pandemic and Rural America, updated September 2020.
Monday, August 17, 2020
In 2013, rural poverty reached a 30-year peak at 18.4 percent of the rural population. Between 2013 and 2018, the rural poverty rate fell 2.3 percentage points, a decline of about 1 million rural residents in poverty. Rural poverty rates declined for all race/ethnicity groups. The rural Black population showed the largest decline in poverty rates, from 37.3 percent in 2013 to 31.6 percent in 2018. Despite this decrease, Blacks continued to have the highest poverty rate among all rural race/ethnicity groups. While Blacks made up 7.6 percent of the rural population, they accounted for 14.9 percent of the rural poor in 2018. American Indians had the second-highest poverty rate (30.9 percent) among all rural race/ethnicity groups in 2018, 3.5 percentage points lower than in 2013. Hispanics had the lowest poverty rate among rural minority groups (23.8 percent) in 2018, an improvement of 4.4 percentage points from 2013. Whites have historically had a much lower rural poverty rate (14.0 percent in 2018), and their rate fell 1.9 percentage points from 2013 to 2018. However, the majority of the rural poor are White. Whites account for 84.8 percent of the overall rural population and 73.4 percent of the rural population in poverty in 2018. This chart updates data that appeared in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Veterans are a rapidly aging and increasingly diverse group, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the rural adult population in 2018. However, the number of veterans living in rural (nonmetro) areas has declined from 6.6 million in 1992 to 3.2 million in 2018. This decline was due largely to a drop in the size of the active military population (from about 3 million in 1992 to 1.3 million in 2018), natural decrease due to aging, and a tendency for younger veterans to settle in urban (metro) areas. Nearly 60 percent of rural veterans were ages 65 or older in 2018, and half of that group were ages 75 or older. By comparison, in 1992, the share of rural veterans age 65 or older was closer to 30 percent. This trend suggests that the number of rural veterans may continue to decline in the future. In addition, whether due to their military service or because of their age profile, over 30 percent of rural veterans reported having a disability in 2018, compared with about 15 percent of nonveterans. Older age and a higher incidence of disabilities may make rural veterans, as a group, increasingly vulnerable. This chart updates data found in the Economic Research Service report, Rural Veterans at a Glance, released November 2013.
Friday, May 22, 2020
The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program provides a legal means to bring foreign-born workers into the United States on a temporary basis. Workers employed on an H-2A visa are allowed to remain in the U.S. for up to 10 months at a time. Employers must demonstrate, and the U.S. Department of Labor must certify, that efforts to recruit U.S. workers were not successful. Employers must also pay a region-specific minimum wage, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate, which is set at the average wage for crop and livestock workers in that region in the prior year, as measured in USDA’s Farm Labor Survey. In addition, employers must pay for application and visa processing fees, provide housing for their H-2A workers, and pay for their domestic and international transportation. One of the clearest indicators of the scarcity of farm labor is the fact that the number of H-2A positions requested and approved has increased fivefold in the past 14 years—from just over 48,000 positions certified in fiscal 2005 to nearly 258,000 in fiscal 2019. The average duration of an H-2A certification in fiscal 2019 was 5.3 months, implying that the 258,000 positions certified represented about 114,000 full-year equivalents. The impact of this year’s shelter-in-place restrictions due to COVID-19 are not reflected in the data discussed. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page for Farm Labor, updated April 2020.
Friday, July 19, 2019
Rural America, with racial/ethnic minorities making up 22 percent of the population in 2016-17, has continued to diversify, but at a slower rate compared to 2012-13. The annual rate of population loss among rural Whites fell from -0.44 to -0.20 percent between 2012-13 and 2016-17. This change is likely due to changes in net migration, with fewer Whites moving out and more moving into rural areas in 2016-17 compared with 2012-13. The rural Black population continued to lose population in 2016-17 as well, but at a higher rate of loss than earlier (-0.20 versus -0.14 percent in 2012-13). Population gains among American Indians and Hispanics have offset population losses among Whites and Blacks. American Indians increased their rural population throughout the period but at diminishing rates, while the Hispanic rate of growth remained near 2 percent per year throughout the period. Although Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the rural population, they accounted for just 9 percent of the rural population in 2017 (compared to 80 percent for Whites). This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Rural America is less racially and ethnically diverse than the Nation’s urban areas. In 2017, Whites accounted for nearly 80 percent of the rural population (compared to 58 percent in urban areas). While Hispanics were the fastest-growing segment of the rural population, they account for only 9 percent of the rural population (20 percent in urban areas). Blacks made up 8 percent of the rural population (13 percent in urban areas). American Indians were the only minority group with a higher rural (2 percent) than urban share (0.5 percent). Relatively few Asians and Pacific Islanders (included in the “Other” category) were rural residents, with these groups accounting for 1 and 0.1 percent of the rural population, respectively. The rest of the “Other” category reported multiple races and accounted for 1.8 percent of the rural population. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report, Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.
Friday, March 8, 2019
People moving to rural areas tend to favor more densely settled areas with attractive scenic qualities, or those near large cities. Over 1,100 rural counties (58 percent) showed positive changes in net migration (inmigrants minus outmigrants) between 2012–13 and 2016–17. These counties are often located in recreation and retirement destinations attractive to newcomers—such as the Upper Great Lakes, the Pacific Northwest, the southern Appalachians, Florida, and the Hill Country of central Texas. Nearly 500 of these counties switched from net outmigration in 2012–13 to net inmigration in 2016–17. Fewer people are moving to sparsely settled, less scenic, and remote locations, which compounds economic development challenges in those areas. Despite increasing net migration generally, 42 percent of rural counties experienced a decrease in net migration between 2012–13 and 2016–17. These counties are in low-density, remote areas in the Nation’s Heartland, in Appalachia from eastern Kentucky to Maine, and in high-poverty areas in the Southeast and border areas of the Southwest. Some of these areas have suffered job losses related to lower oil and gas production. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.
Thursday, November 8, 2018
The decline in U.S. rural population, which began in 2010, has reversed for the first time this decade. In 2016-17, the rural population increased by 0.1 percent (adding 33,000 people). This recent upturn in rural population growth stems from increasing rates of net migration, which includes urban-to-rural migration as well as immigration from foreign countries. Rural net migration increased from −0.25 percent in 2011-12 to essentially zero in 2016-17. During the same period, population growth from natural change (births minus deaths) dropped from 0.12 percent to 0.08 percent. This continues a long-term downward trend in growth rates from natural change due to lower fertility rates, an aging population, and, more recently, increasing mortality rates for some age groups. While natural change has gradually trended downward over time, net migration rates tend to fluctuate in response to economic conditions. With growth from natural change projected to continue falling, future population growth in rural America will depend more on increasing net migration—which has coincided with declining rural unemployment, rising incomes, and declining poverty since 2013. These improved labor market conditions have allowed rural areas to retain more residents and attract more newcomers. The total rural population has remained close to 46.1 million since 2013. This chart appears in the November 2018 ERS report Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
Monday, September 19, 2016
Between 2010 and 2015, the population of rural and small-town America declined by 0.3 percent, according to Census population estimates. This loss of 137,000 people was a relatively small change that masked larger racial-ethnic trends. The non-Hispanic White population declined by 738,000 in rural (nonmetro) counties, while all other racial-ethnic groups increased by 601,000. The rural Hispanic population alone grew by 376,000 (10 percent) during this time period. The increasing Hispanic population helped nearly 10 percent of rural counties (188 counties) in Texas, New Mexico, and 32 other states maintain population growth, continuing a 30-year trend. Immigration and domestic migration drove this trend early on as Hispanic workers filled jobs in textiles, food processing, and other agricultural-related industries. Today, immigration has slowed and most of the growth in the rural Hispanic population comes from natural increase (more births than deaths). The resulting change in the composition of Hispanic families may lead to new community needs for housing, schools, and family services. Find county-level maps and data on the U.S. Hispanic population in ERS’s Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America.