WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2016 - So what does rural America look like once you open the hatch and take a look under the hood? USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) held a webcast last week to highlight findings from its 2015 "Rural America at a Glance" report, which confirms what most rural residents already know well: Many rural areas continue to experience population loss, higher poverty rates, and lower educational attainment than urban areas. Here are some highlights:
Employment: The report, released late last year, found rural employment grew 1 percent from mid-2014 to mid-2015 – significantly higher than in the previous year, but still 3.2 percent lower than in 2007, before the Great Recession.
During the same period in urban America, employment rose almost 2 percent and was above pre-recession levels – as it has been for years now.
The rural unemployment rate has continued to fall over the past five years, but at a pace slower than urban areas, the report said.
ERS economist Lorin Kusman, the report’s lead author, said that the farm industry downturn probably won’t have any significant effects on rural communities because “farm employment, at this point in history, is a modest share of rural employment” – around 6 percent.
Education: The proportion of rural adults with at least a four-year college degree increased by 4 percentage points from 2000 through 2014 to 19 percent, while the proportion without a high school diploma or GED declined by 9 percentage points to 15 percent.
Compared to urban areas, the proportion of rural adults with four-year degrees is 13 percentage points lower. However, the proportion of people with at least some college or with an associate’s degree rose by 1 percentage point.
Educational attainment rates were significantly lower among rural African Americans and Native Americans, compared with whites. About 10 percent of the latter two groups had earned a college or associate’s degree, while 20 percent of whites had those credentials.
Rural child poverty rates were higher in counties with more high school dropouts, the report found. Conversely, “improvements in rural educational attainment since 2000 have facilitated a decline in overall rural poverty and rural child poverty.”
Population loss in 2 out of 3 rural counties: Rural population declined by about 116,000 people between 2010 and 2014, with losses of about 60,000 people from 2013 through 2014, the report found. In 2014, the rural population stood at about 46 million – 15 percent of U.S. residents.
Nearly 700 rural counties experienced population growth between 2010 and 2014, however, adding over 400,000 people. Those counties were largely located in the Rocky Mountains, southern Appalachia, or regions like the northern Great Plains. The 1,300 counties that experienced population losses since 2010 were in areas dependent on farming, manufacturing, or resource extraction.
Nearly 300 rural counties lost population during 2010-14 because the net migration rate was higher than the birth rate. A larger elderly population and the out-migration of young adults of childbearing age in rural areas is largely responsible for this dynamic.
Rural poverty remains high: Economic recovery in rural areas after the 2008 recession “has been modest” and “stagnant for most rural groups,” the report found. Overall, the rural poverty rate was 18.1 percent in 2014 – higher than the national rate of 15.5 percent, and the urban rate of 15.1. Child poverty continued to increase at the start of the recovery, and by 2014, was at 25.2 percent. ERS suggests that rural child poverty rates have continued to increase because of “falling income averages – especially among families with children living below the poverty line – as well as changes in family structures.”
In 2014, rural poverty rates were highest among African Americans (36 percent) followed by Native Americans (33 percent), Hispanics (27 percent), and whites (14 percent). Between 2007 and 2009, rural poverty rates increased most for Hispanics (2.4 percentage points) and African Americans (1.6 percentage points), although Hispanics were the only ethnic group to have a lower poverty rate in 2014 than in 2007.
Single female-headed households with children had the highest rates of poverty among family types. In 2014, 48.4 percent of rural families headed by a woman with related children and no spouse present were poor, when 6.7 percent of rural married-couple families were poor.
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