Monday, May 02, 2022

More than 1,300 small urban areas will be classified rural under new Census criteria; could affect federal funding

More than 1,300 urban areas will be reclassified as rural under the Census Bureau's new criteria; some worry rural areas could get less federal funding. "A revised list of urban areas won’t be released until later this year, but a third of the areas deemed urban a decade ago would be knocked into the rural category under the new criteria," reports Mike Schneider of The Associated Press.

The biggest change is that the bureau will count housing units instead of people to define urbanity and rurality. Under the old definition, a place with at 2,500 or more residents was considered urban, but many people considered that number, in use for more than a century, too low. Now, urban areas will be those with at least 2,000 housing units, which translates to a population of about 5,000.

"Some communities worry that the switch to housing units will cause some areas to be underestimated if the Census Bureau uses the U.S. average of 2.6 people per household for its calculations," Schneider reports. "A coalition of associations representing cities, counties, planners and transportation groups had objected to many of the proposed changes last year, saying the switch from people to housing units would miss variations in development and land-use patterns.

"The Census Bureau tried to address those concerns by creating three levels of urban-area definitions for census blocks, which are the nation’s smallest geographic unit and show rural areas inside counties that are part of metropolitan areas largely because of commuting patterns. Census blocks will be urban if they have 425 housing units per square mile, the equivalent of 1,105 people. Before the change, census blocks with at least 500 people per square mile were considered urban. The redesignation gives the bureau a way to distinguish between the 'urban nucleus' and less densely populated areas, typically on the fringes of urban areas."

Some stakeholders worry that rural areas could lose federal funding for health care, education, infrastructure and more. Though the bureau warns that the new criteria should be used for statistical purposes only, other federal agencies routinely use its classification system to determine who qualifies for funding, Schneider reports. So more rural areas means blanket funding would have to stretch further, and competition could increase for grants.

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