|USDA chart; graph represents weekly rates, averaged over the three weeks preceding the dates at the bottom. "Micropolitan" includes adjacent rural counties when inter-county commuting in substantial. Click on the image to enlarge it.|
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service has released the 2020 edition of its Rural America at a Glance report, a summary of broad rural trends in population, employment, poverty and income. This year's edition focuses on recent economic and demographic conditions in rural areas resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing recession.
At 1 p.m. ET today, ERS economist Elizabeth Dobbs will host a free, one-hour webinar to go over the report's findings. Click here for more information about the webinar or to register.
Here are some of the general, topline findings from the report:
- The U.S. population in counties outside metropolitan areas was 46.1 million in July 2019, essentially unchanged from 46.2 million in 2010.
- The rural population grew by 0.02% between 2018 and 2019, a small increase after six previous years of population decline, but well below the urban increase of 0.6%.
- Rural counties added jobs every year during the past decade but at less than half the rate of urban counties during most years, including 2018-19 (0.6 percent growth in rural counties compared with 1.4 percent growth in urban counties).
- Rural poverty rates dropped from a 2013 rate of 18.4% to 16.1% in 2018, still well above the urban rate of 12.6%.
- The rural share of cases and deaths increased markedly during the fall. Rural areas have 14% of the population but accounted for 27% of Covid-19 deaths during the last three weeks of October. Rural residents are more likely to be older, have underlying health issues, live further away from hospitals, an are less likely to have health insurance.
- In March and April, the pandemic drove U.S. unemployment rates to levels not seen since the 1930s. Rural unemployment peaked at 13.6% in mid-April, which was 1 point lower than in metro areas, and fell to 6.0% by mid-September.
- The spread of the pandemic across rural America varied according to different areas' dominant economic sectors. In rural counties with a high proportion of jobs in meatpacking operations, for example, Covid-19 cases peaked at the end of April at nearly 50 per 100,000 population, compared with roughly 5 per 100,000 in other rural counties.
- The first "flare-up" of coronavirus infections in the spring happened mostly in urban areas; the second, in August, hit rural and urban areas, and the third, which began in late October, disproportionately hit rural areas.
- Rural residents in the Great Plains and Mountain West are particularly likely to live far from a hospital with an intensive-care unit.
- Before the pandemic, rural unemployment had been declining for a decade, reaching 2.5% in September 2019. But rural unemployment hit 13.6% in mid-April 2020, well above the 2010 peak of 11.5% following the Great Recession.
- Rural unemployment rates in 2020 were highest in counties whose economies depended on mining and lowest in counties that depended on farming.