STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | february 2018
Rural America encompasses 72 percent of the country’s land and is home to 46 million residents.
But the quality of life in rural areas is not keeping pace with that in urban communities. While most urban areas, with highly educated workforces, have recovered from the Great Recession, rural, small-town America has not.
Rural America has been in recession since a period of growth in the 1990s—far longer than the nation as a whole, according to a report on rural poverty released in December by the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire.
Since 2000, the economies of rural regions with less than 50,000 workers have grown by an average of 1.6 percent, compared with 9.1 percent in cities with workforces larger than 1 million. As jobs have dried up, especially in manufacturing (down 20 percent since 2000) and mining, rural residents have migrated to cities. Since 2010, the rural population has decreased by more than 462,000 people.
Reasons for the job losses include automation of blue collar jobs, giant online retailers undercutting mom-and-pop businesses and an over-reliance on a single industry or business. With the loss of jobs comes a spike in poverty. The portion of rural counties with a poverty rate greater than 20 percent jumped from one-fifth in 2000 to one-third in 2015. Since 2007, however, the median income of rural Americans has remained around 25 percent less than the urban median—$45,295 compared with $60,542 in 2016.
Editor's note: See how this story looked in print.
Sidebar: How Is Poverty Defined?
People are officially in poverty when their annual income is below a federally determined amount based on family size. In 2016, for example, the poverty line was $12,486 for an adult under age 65; $19,318 for a couple with one child; and $28,643 for a couple with three children.