Rural areas are defined in a number of ways according to the economic or social outcome of interest. Rural economic and demographic changes are closely linked; both are essential to understanding whether diverse rural areas are prospering or in distress, and how underlying factors such as education affect the well-being of rural communities. Recent trends point to relatively slow employment and population growth in rural areas, accompanied by increases in poverty. These trends vary widely across rural America.
Historically, nonmetro areas in the United States have lagged behind metro areas in educational attainment, but they are catching up. The share of adults with high school and college degrees in nonmetro areas rose over the 2000s. However, in 2019, nonmetro areas still faced a gap compared with metro areas in the share of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher—21 percent versus 35 percent. One explanation may be the higher pay more highly-educated workers can often earn in metropolitan labor markets.