Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Biden administration drops Trump administration's idea that would have greatly expanded unofficial definition of 'rural'

Map by The Daily Yonder, based on Office of Management and Budget data

The Biden administration has dropped a Trump-administration proposal that would have doubled the threshold to qualify as a metropolitan area, a move that would have greatly broadened the rough but most widely used definition of "rural" in the United States.

At the end of the previous administration, the White House Office of Management and Budget proposed that the metro threshold be raised from a central city of 50,000 to one of 100,000. OMB announced in a press release Tuesday that the threshold would not be changed, but studied for 2030.

The idea was not popular, and prompted a campaign against it, reports Tim Marema of The Daily Yonder. Of the 734 comments OMB received about it, 712, or 97%, were opposed, the agency said in its report to be published in the Federal Register on July 16. Some rural advocates feared that it would dilute the impact of programs designed for nonmetropolitan counties.

"The change would have reclassified 251 currently metropolitan counties as nonmetropolitan, based on current population figures," Marema reports. "The affected counties contain a combined population of about 18 million. The change would have raised the nation’s nonmetropolitan population from about 46 million to 64 million."

OMB says the definition is not meant to draw a rural-urban line, but it is "incorporated into an undetermined number of federal funding programs," Marema notes. "Even the venerable USDA Economic Research Service uses the nonmetropolitan classification as the starting point for much of its research on rural conditions."

OMB noted, "Counties included in metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas [central cites of 10,000 to 50,000] may contain both urban and rural territory and population. For instance, programs that seek to strengthen rural economies by focusing solely on counties located outside MSAs could ignore a predominantly rural county that is included in an MSA because a high percentage of the county’s residents commute to urban centers for work."

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