Rural Economy & Population

  • Business & Industry
    While agriculture, forestry, and mining remain important sectors in some rural areas, service and retail industries have accounted for most job growth in rural America over the past few decades. ERS research on rural business and industry focuses on industrial trends that shape the job opportunities available to the rural labor force.
  • Employment & Education
    ERS research in this area focuses on labor market conditions and educational attainment in the rural (nonmetropolitan) United States. The labor market measures discussed here include the level of employment, the unemployment rate, and the labor force participation rate. Educational attainment is closely linked to labor market outcomes. While rural areas are closing the gap with urban areas in high school completion, there is a large and growing gap in college and postgraduate educational attainment, even among young adults.
  • Natural Amenities
    ERS researchers developed a natural amenities scale based on the premise that people are drawn to areas with varied topography; lakes, ponds, or oceanfront; warm, sunny winters; and temperate, low-humidity summers.
  • Population & Migration
    Nonmetro areas in some parts of the country have experienced population loss for decades. Opportunities for population growth and economic expansion, however, vary widely from one nonmetro county to the next, and new regional patterns of growth and decline have emerged in recent years.
  • Rural Classifications
    USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers and others who analyze conditions in "rural" America most often study conditions in nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) areas, defined on the basis of counties. In addition to conducting research that uses the basic metro-nonmetro dichotomy, ERS has developed multi-level county classifications to measure rurality in more detail and to assess the economic and social diversity of nonmetro America. For some research and program applications, counties are too large to accurately distinguish rural and urban settlement patterns. Building on the urban-rural definition, ERS has also developed sub-county classifications that more accurately delineate different levels of rurality and address program eligibility concerns.
  • Rural Poverty & Well-Being
    ERS research in this topic area focuses on the economic, social, spatial, temporal, and demographic factors that affect the poverty status of rural residents.