‘Rurality’ of nonmetropolitan counties varies across regions

U.S. map classifying counties from most urban to most rural.

The USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) has updated its Rural-Urban Continuum Codes (RUCC), which classify all U.S. counties into nine categories from most urban to most rural. The RUCC distinguish U.S. metropolitan (metro) counties by the population size of their metro area and nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) counties by their degree of urbanization and adjacency to a metro area. The RUCC allow researchers and policymakers to add nuance to their county-level analyses by incorporating the population of the Census Bureau’s urban areas with the OMB’s definition of metropolitan counties. The most urban counties belong to metro areas (shown in purple on the map). These are divided into three categories based on the total population of the metro area. Counties that are commonly considered rural are those that do not belong to metro areas (shown in green on the map). The RUCC classify these nonmetro counties into six categories based on the number of people who live in urban areas (small cities or towns) and whether the county is adjacent to a metro area. The most urban of the nonmetro counties are those that had urban area populations of at least 20,000 and are most prevalent in regions such as the Northeast, Great Lakes, and along the coasts. The most rural of the nonmetro counties had urban area populations of fewer than 5,000 and are the most prevalent in the Great Plains and Corn Belt. Counties classified as adjacent to metro areas are considered more urban than their nonadjacent counterparts because their residents have greater access to the diverse employment opportunities, goods, and services available in metro areas. For more information on the RUCC, please see the ERS data product Rural-Urban Continuum Codes.

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