Strengthening the Rural Economy - The Current State of Rural America
II. THE CURRENT STATE OF RURAL AMERICA
While rural America offers many opportunities, it also faces unique challenges in growing its economy and maintaining an educated and healthy labor force. In this section, we begin by describing how the U.S. population is distributed geographically and the sectors in which the rural population is employed. We then examine how rural communities have fared compared with their urban counterparts in labor force participation, educational attainment, poverty rates, and access to health care.
A. The Diverse Rural Economy
About 17 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural counties.1 Figure 1 shows that virtually every state contains rural areas, reflecting the country’s diversity of communities. That said, rural counties are not uniformly distributed. With the exception of the coast, the Western United States is dominated by low-density rural land where the distance between metropolitan areas is larger and population density is lower, while the Eastern United States is mainly a mixture of high-density rural and urban areas.
2 The data provided by the Department of Agriculture are based on different surveys before and after 1988. The survey data from before 1988 over-estimated on-farm income because they assumed that farm operator households received all farm business income, including that earned by contractors. A farmer is counted in this survey if his or her farm surpasses a minimum sales threshold, which varies over time; additionally, early years in the series included farms over an acreage threshold.
3 The statistics for 1970 and 2000 are as a share of the employed labor force, whereas the earlier figures are as a share of the total labor force (Dimitri, Effland, and Conklin 2005).
4Agriculture value added per worker measures the output of the agricultural sector less the value of intermediate inputs. Agriculture includes value added from forestry, fishing, and cultivation of crops and livestock production.
5 The analysis covers FTAs with Australia, Canada, Chile, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, and Singapore. We exclude 10 additional FTAs that the United States has implemented since 2005 because the window for evaluating the post-implementation effects is too short.
6 In the table, prior refers to the annualized growth rate between 6 years before FTA implementation and the calendar year before implementation. Post refers to the annualized growth rate between the calendar year before implementation and 5 years after that. Change represents the difference between post-period and prior-period growth rates. FTA consists of the weighted-average of the bilateral trade around the FTA agreements for the listed countries. Non FTA consists of the weighted average of trade with the set of countries that have never implemented an FTA with the United States. The CEA used the Department of Agriculture’s definition of agricultural products.
7 Results are weighted by the amount of exports the year before FTA implementation. Unweighted results show the same pattern.
8Counties are classified as described above. Because this figure covers years before 1970, the calculations here involve more counties with changed borders or FIPS codes, though the number is still relatively small.
9The definition of “working-age population” here is different from that above due to the age categories available in the Social Security Administration’s published data.
10So as not to overstate disability “intensity,” we first net out the fraction of SSDI recipients younger than 25 or older than 64 years, roughly 5.25 percent as of December 2008 (Social Security Administration 2009).
11Less than one percent of claimants exit SSDI in a typical year because they are under 65 and no longer meet the standards for receiving disability benefits (Autor and Duggan 2006).
12Due to data limitations, the health care analyses in this report do not classify counties into rural and urban categories. Instead, they use the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey’s metropolitan and non-metropolitan classifications. In this table, percentages are not directly comparable to published Census results due to CEA calculations assigning individuals to only one coverage category. For those covered by multiple types of insurance, individuals were assigned to categories in the following order of precedence: Medicare, Military, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, Private Insurance. Individuals not assigned to one of these categories are considered uninsured.
13An American Indian Area includes American Indian reservations, trust lands, tribal jurisdictions, and designated statistical areas (Ogunwole 2006).
14These statistics are generated by weighting each county by its population. The results are similar if no population weights are used.