ERS Charts of Note
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Wednesday, August 2, 2023
USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) has developed the Road Ruggedness Scale (RRS) to aid in understanding the unique role of rugged terrain as both a benefit and hindrance to the well-being of communities and their residents. The RRS has five categories based on changes in elevation along roads within census tracts (the small geographic areas used to collect population data). The census tracts are classified as: 1–level, 2–nearly level, 3–slightly rugged, 4–moderately rugged, or 5–highly rugged. Most census tracts have very little topographic variation, with 65.6 percent classified as level in the RRS. The next largest category is nearly level, with 22.4 percent of census tracts. The remaining 12.0 percent of census tracts are classified as slightly to highly rugged, and only 4.4 percent are classified as moderately or highly rugged. The RRS helps to identify landscape characteristics that may present an impediment to settlement and travel, such as the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Mountain System, the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, and the Black Hills. These geologic features can make it difficult for people living in rugged areas to access services. They can also attract tourists and prospective residents who prefer rugged terrain or are interested in outdoor activities. To our knowledge, the RRS is the first roads-only, detailed ruggedness measure with full nationwide coverage for the United States. It has the potential to contribute to research on links between the geography and well-being of individuals, especially those living in rural areas, as well as to other research and policy applications. This chart appears in the ERS report Characterizing Rugged Terrain in the United States, published in August 2023. The Road Ruggedness Scale data product published in September 2023.
Thursday, June 22, 2023
The number of primary care physicians per 10,000 residents is generally higher in much of the Northeast, along the West Coast, in Hawaii, and parts of the mountainous West and upper Midwest. The availability of primary care physicians per capita is generally lower in much of the Great Plains—especially the Southern Great Plains—and the Lower Mississippi Delta and Southeast. However, there are substantial variations in the availability of physicians within these regions. For instance, in rural counties, there are fewer physicians per capita in counties adjacent to urban counties than in those farther from urban areas. This is likely because residents travel from nearby rural areas to urban doctors. The lowest rates of physicians per capita are in rural counties with an urban population of less than 2,500. This chart updates data appearing in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Linkages Between Rural Community Capitals and Healthcare Provision: A Survey of Small Rural Towns in Three U.S. Regions published in March 2023.
Monday, June 12, 2023
The availability of healthcare professionals in rural areas lags that of urban areas, partly because of difficulties in recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals. When choosing rural locations to practice, healthcare professionals (physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives, and dentists) most often cite social aspects, such as the friendliness of the town, as an important factor in their decision, according to a survey administered by researchers at USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) and Iowa State University. Similar factors come into play when these professionals choose to stay in their rural small towns. Other factors that reflect the importance of social relationships included being a good place to raise family, having relatives or friends living nearby, familiarity with the area (for the initial location decision), the quality of professional contacts and collegiality among local healthcare professionals (investigated only for the decision to stay), and if the professional’s family was settled in the town (also only investigated for the decision to stay). Other factors, such as the quality of the medical community, the quality of schools, and opportunities for professional growth also were cited as important. This chart appears in the ERS report Linkages Between Rural Community Capitals and Healthcare Provision: A Survey of Small Rural Towns in Three U.S. Regions, published in March 2023, as well as the Amber Waves article Healthcare Professionals Seek Social Connections When Moving to Rural Towns, published in May 2023
Monday, April 3, 2023
The availability of healthcare professionals in rural areas lags that of urban areas. As of 2020, rural (nonmetro) areas recorded 5.1 primary care physicians per 10,000 residents, while the number in urban (metro) areas was 8.0. Similarly, the number of dentists was 4.7 in rural areas compared with 7.6 in urban areas, while the number of nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and certified nurse midwives was 11.1 in rural areas compared with 14.7 in urban areas. Lower availability of primary healthcare services has been associated with a higher likelihood of poor health and lower life expectancy. Healthcare services are important not only for people’s health, but also for rural economies. Further, the healthcare services sector is one of the largest and most rapidly growing economic sectors across all parts of the United States. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service report, Linkages Between Rural Community Capitals and Healthcare Provision: A Survey of Small Rural Towns in Three U.S. Regions published in March 2023.
Monday, March 20, 2023
Formal educational attainment in rural America has grown over time, but rural (nonmetro) areas still lag urban (metro) areas. From 2000 to 2017–21 (the most recent estimate period from the American Community Survey), the share of adults ages 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased in rural areas from 15 to 21 percent. In the same time span, the share of adults in urban areas with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 26 to 36 percent, widening the rural-urban gap from 11 to 15 percentage points in these two reference periods. This rural-urban gap in the share of people with at least a bachelor’s degree is even larger for younger age groups. In 2017–21, the share of working-age adults (ages 25–64) with at least a bachelor’s degree was 37 percent in urban areas and 21 percent in rural areas, while the share of younger adults ages 25–44 with at least a bachelor’s degree was 40 percent in urban areas and 22 percent in rural areas. One explanation for the persisting and widening gap may be the higher pay that more highly educated workers can often earn in urban labor markets. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service data product Charting the Essentials, published in January 2023.
Thursday, March 9, 2023
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected unemployment rates differently in rural and urban counties. In January 2020, just before the pandemic, the unemployment rates in both persistently poor and not persistently poor rural counties were higher than in the respective urban counties. In addition, the unemployment rates in persistently poor rural counties were higher than in rural counties that were not persistently poor (5.9 percent versus 4.6 percent). This pattern changed with the pandemic-driven economic downturn. By April 2020, the unemployment rate among persistently poor rural counties had more than doubled to a peak of 12.3 percent. However, in other rural counties the unemployment rate had nearly tripled, surpassing the unemployment rate in persistently poor rural counties with a peak of 13.4 percent. Similarly, in urban counties the unemployment rate nearly tripled (from 4.9 percent to 14.4 percent) for persistently poor counties and more than tripled for other urban counties (from 3.8 percent to 14.2 percent), surpassing the unemployment rates in rural counties. These unemployment rate changes suggest that the employment shock at the start of the pandemic was not as prominent in persistently poor counties as in counties that were not persistently poor, and that it had a larger effect on urban counties than rural counties. The varying effects of the pandemic might in part be traced to whether local industries stayed open (essential industries, such as meatpacking), or saw reduced demand, such as retail and hospitality. Unemployment rates in rural counties returned to pre-pandemic levels by November 2021, but persistently poor urban counties did not recover until December 2022 and continue to have the highest unemployment rates. This chart updates data in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition, published in November 2021.
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Among racial and ethnic groups (not including non-Hispanic White) in rural areas, Hispanic workers often lead employment in the six largest rural industries. In 2019, Hispanic workers performed 14.4 percent of rural jobs in agriculture and 12.8 percent in accommodation and food services. In rural manufacturing jobs, 8.7 percent of workers were Hispanic; in government, 7.8 percent; in retail, 7.5 percent; and in health care and social assistance, 6.2 percent. Rural Black workers were more evenly distributed with 9.7 percent of the workforce in manufacturing, 9.4 percent in health care and social assistance, 9.5 percent in hotels and restaurants, and 8.8 percent in government. Black workers were less represented in retail (7.0 percent) and in agriculture (2.4 percent). Asian workers constituted less than 2 percent of the rural workforce in most industries, except for accommodation and food services (3.3 percent). Similarly, American Indian or Alaska Native workers represented less than 2 percent of rural employment in most industries except government (3.4 percent). This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2022 edition.
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
Over the last two decades, the strongest rural job gains were in smaller industries that tend to employ high-skill workers. The highest growth was in the real estate industry, which includes lessors of nonresidential buildings, real estate agents, brokers and property managers, and industrial machinery and equipment rental and leasing, as identified by the U.S. Census Bureau’s North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Also showing rapid growth was the administrative services industry, which includes office administration, facilities support, business support services, security services, conventions and trade shows, and waste management and treatment. Other rural industries that grew over the past two decades were health care and social assistance; professional, scientific, and technical services; educational services; and finance and insurance. The growth of these industries represented a shift in rural production toward industries that employ higher shares of high-skill workers. Consistent with this shift, the percent of rural college-educated workers increased from 21.5 percent in 2012 to 23.8 percent in 2019, although these rates have remained lower than the share of college-educated urban workers (38 percent in 2019). The six largest rural industries in terms of employment during this period were health care and social assistance; accommodation and food services; government; retail; agriculture; and manufacturing. Only the health and social assistance industry was at the same time one of the fastest-growing rural industries and one of the six largest rural industries in terms of employment. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2022 Edition, published in November 2022.
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
In nonmetro areas from 2010 to 2020, the working-age population (ages 18 to 64) declined by 4.9 percent, and the population under age 18 declined by 5.7 percent. At the same time, the population of those 65 years and older grew by 22 percent. In metro areas, the working-age population increased by 6 percent during the 2010s; however, this growth was overshadowed by the 37 percent growth in the 65 and older population. Nationwide, the overall U.S. population has aged as the baby boomer generation entered their 60s and 70s. Nonmetro areas, in addition to having an aging population, also face population decline. Between 2010 and 2020, U.S. Census data show the population in nonmetro counties declined by 0.6 percent, the first decade of overall nonmetro population decline in U.S. census history. Nonmetro population subsequently increased in the first year and a half of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from 2020 to 2021 which saw people move out of metro areas into rural places. However, population gains due to COVID-19 were not enough to offset a decade-long slide in the share of the population that is of working-age nor to reduce the share of the rural population that was 65 or older during this period. Overall, population decline and an increase in average age in rural areas will affect the makeup and availability of the rural labor force. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2022 edition, published on November 15, 2022.
Thursday, November 10, 2022
USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) analysis of the American Community Survey estimates for 2015–19 reveal the poverty rate for veterans to be nearly 5 percentage points lower than for non-veteran adults (8.2 percent compared to 12.8 percent). However, in many areas of the nation, veterans have higher poverty rates than nonveterans, especially in nonmetropolitan counties. During the 2015–19 data period, there were 248 counties with a high rate of poverty (equal to or greater than 20 percent) for the veteran population. The adult non-veteran population had high poverty rates in less than half of those counties (119). Of the 129 counties in which only veterans had high poverty, there were 15 counties with extreme high poverty rates (equal to or greater than 40 percent) for veterans. Across all the 248 counties in which there was high veteran poverty, nearly 90 percent (219 counties) were nonmetropolitan counties. This chart uses data found in the ERS Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America and updates statistics that appear in the ERS Economic Brief Rural Veterans at a Glance, published in November 2013.
Friday, October 14, 2022
In rural areas, the level of educational attainment for women ages 25–34 continues to outpace young men. In 1990, 48 percent of rural young women had post-high school education, compared to 42 percent of rural young men. By 2020, this 6-percentage-point difference in post-high school educational attainment between the sexes increased to 14 percentage points, with 67 percent of rural, young women having post-high school education compared to 53 percent for their male counterparts. From 1990 to 2020, higher education rates for young, rural females increased almost 19 percentage points. The majority of that increase (10 percentage points) came from a rise in bachelor’s degrees, with another 6 percent coming from gains in advanced degrees, such as graduate or medical degrees. Educational attainment often has direct implications for earnings, with higher levels linked to increased wages and lower rates of unemployment, as discussed in Rural Education at a Glance, 2017 Edition. This is even more relevant for rural areas, where median earnings do not keep pace with urban area earnings. This chart updates information found in Rural Education at a Glance, 2017 Edition.
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
Households in rural (nonmetropolitan) persistently poor counties were the least likely to have home internet in 2015-19, with more than 3 in 10 households lacking internet access at home. In comparison, only 2 in 10 households in rural counties that were not persistently poor had no internet access at home. A similar pattern was observed in urban (metropolitan) areas, with 2 in 10 households in persistently poor counties lacking home internet access. Only a little more than 1 in 10 households in urban counties that were not persistently poor had no internet access at home. These data illustrate two major trends. First, rural households were less likely to have internet subscriptions at home than urban households. Second, in persistently poor counties, whether rural or urban, a higher share of households lacks internet adoption than in counties that are not persistently poor. For households with internet access at home, service was mainly through a subscription, which includes a range of access from dial-up to broadband to cellular data plans. These gaps in at-home internet access and subscriptions suggest that households in persistently poor counties—and more specifically, households in rural persistently poor counties—had additional barriers to internet adoption. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition, published in November 2021.
Monday, August 1, 2022
Self-employed workers were more than twice as likely to lack health insurance compared with those employed by private firms or government in 2018, regardless of whether they lived in metropolitan or nonmetropolitan counties. Self-employed working-age adults (ages 26–64) with health insurance were covered more widely across sources. Like those employed by private firms and government, they were insured through employer-based group health insurance plans more than any other source. (Many of these individuals could be receiving coverage through another household member’s employer-based plan.) Even so, a much smaller share of self-employed workers was covered by employer-based plans than those employed by private firms or government (50.5 percent versus 82.4 percent, respectively, in nonmetro counties). Instead, self-employed working-age adults were insured through direct-purchase health insurance plans at more than three times the rate of those employed by private firms or government. Similarly, public health insurance (e.g., Medicaid, Medicare) rates for self-employed working-age adults were nearly twice that of those employed by private firms or government. A version of this chart appears in the ERS publication Health Care Access Among Self-Employed Workers in Nonmetropolitan Counties published May 2022.
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
As the effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic deepened in 2020, a greater share of employed people reported lacking health insurance coverage, regardless of residential location or whether they were self-employed. Self-employed workers were already more often uninsured than those employed by private industry or government, and the gap persisted through the end of 2020. Self-employed workers started the pandemic with uninsured rates of between 24 percent and 28 percent, and these rates remained relatively stable through July 21, 2020. Thereafter, the percentage of uninsured individuals increased, and between August 19 and December 21, 2020, around 33 to 34 percent of self-employed workers were uninsured. The rates of uninsured individuals among other workers followed the same trend, with rates of 15 to 16 percent at the beginning of the pandemic increasing to around 27 percent by the end of 2020. The increases correspond both to a decrease in health insurance coverage through employer-based plans as job losses grew and to slight declines in coverage through direct-purchase plans among the self-employed. This chart appears in the ERS publication report Health Care Access Among Self-Employed Workers in Nonmetropolitan Counties, published May 2022.
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
Self-employed workers are individuals who work for themselves and have not incorporated their businesses. A higher proportion of nonmetropolitan workers are self-employed than metropolitan workers, according to a recent study by the USDA, Economic Research Service. ERS researchers used workforce data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census’ 2014–18 American Community Survey (ACS) to classify counties by the percentage of self-employed workers. Counties with a share of self-employed workers in the top 25 percent were considered to have a high level of self-employment. In these counties, 9.1 percent to 36.7 percent of workers were self-employed. High self-employment counties were primarily nonmetropolitan (702 counties versus 84 metropolitan counties). They were largely clustered throughout the Great Plains and upper Mountain West. This figure appears in the ERS publication Health Care Access Among Self-Employed Workers in Nonmetropolitan Counties, published May 2022.
Thursday, July 7, 2022
To understand how the availability of health care for self-employed workers in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas has changed over time, researchers at USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) examined the average rate of doctors with medical degrees (not with osteopathic degrees) per 10,000 people. In this chart, they focused on differences between metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties with high and low rates of self-employment. The researchers found that between 1960 and 2017, doctors have been far more available in metropolitan counties with low self-employment rates than in other counties. They also found that doctors have been the least available in nonmetropolitan counties with high self-employment rates. The largest gap in doctor availability existed between these two groups: in 2017, there was an average of 23 doctors per 10,000 residents in low self-employment metropolitan counties versus 7 doctors in high self-employment nonmetropolitan counties. However, the average rates of doctors and trends in those rates have changed over time. Between 1970 and 2000, the average rate of doctors increased in both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties. But since 2000, the average rate of doctors started to decrease in nonmetropolitan counties. By 2017, the average rate of doctors in low self-employment nonmetropolitan counties fell below the rate in high self-employment metropolitan counties. Thus, people living in nonmetropolitan counties, particularly those with a higher proportion of self-employed workers, generally had less access to doctors. A version of this chart appears in the ERS publication Health Care Access Among Self-Employed Workers in Nonmetropolitan Counties, published May 2022.
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
From 2007 to 2019, labor force participation rates (the percentage of the population that is working or actively looking for work) decreased 2.6 percentage points for people aged 25 to 64 in the rural United States and 0.7 percentage point for the same age group in urban areas. The larger decrease in rural participation reflects a slower recovery in those areas after the Great Recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. Labor force participation rates for people aged 25 to 64 decreased again from 2019 to 2020 due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic but decreased less in rural counties than in urban counties (rural 0.6 percentage point vs. urban 1 percentage point). Rates declined the most from 2019 to 2020 for people aged 16 to 24 and fell the most in that age group in urban counties. In 2021, labor force participation rates for each age group remained below pre-pandemic (2019) levels in rural and urban counties and even decreased below 2020 levels for people aged 25 to 64 in rural areas and for people 65 and over in urban and rural areas. In 2021, the labor force participation rate for people aged 16 to 24 in rural counties rebounded compared with 2020. This chart was drawn from the Rural Employment and Unemployment data page, updated March 29, 2022.
Friday, January 14, 2022
Access to fast internet speeds has been crucial throughout the Nation with the increased online presence of school, work, and shopping due to the (Coronavirus) COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2019, the moderate- or high-speed broadband internet needed for high-quality video calls was available in the census blocks of more than 90 percent of U.S. residents. In rural counties, however, only 72 percent residents had access to those internet speeds. Only 63 percent of rural residents in counties with persistent poverty had moderate or high-speed broadband available in their census blocks. Counties are considered persistently poor if they have a poverty rate of 20 percent or more for four consecutive U.S. Census measurements dating back to 1980. Among persistently poor rural counties, high availability of moderate or high-speed internet was clustered in and around eastern Kentucky and southern Texas. Rural persistently poor counties in the Deep South and Southwest had low internet availability, as did rural counties in the lower Great Plains and western Mountain States that were not persistently poor. Rural counties without persistent poverty that had high internet availability were scattered throughout the eastern half of the United States and clustered in the upper Great Plains and eastern Mountain States. This map was first published in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition.
Friday, January 7, 2022
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected unemployment rates differently in rural and urban counties. In January 2020, just before the pandemic, the unemployment rates in rural counties, both persistently poor and not, were higher than in urban counties. In addition, the unemployment rates in persistently poor counties were higher than in counties that were not persistently poor (6 percent versus 4.6 percent, respectively, for rural counties). That changed with the pandemic-driven economic downturn. By April 2020, the unemployment rate among persistently poor rural counties had more than doubled to a peak of 12.6 percent. However, in other rural counties the unemployment rate had more than tripled, surpassing the unemployment rate in persistently poor rural counties with a peak of 13.7 percent. Similarly, in urban counties the unemployment rate more than tripled for persistently poor counties and quadrupled for other urban counties, surpassing the unemployment rates in rural counties. These changes in the unemployment rate suggest that the employment shock at the start of the pandemic was not as prominent in persistently poor counties as in counties that were not persistently poor, and that it had a larger effect on urban counties than rural counties. These changes are possibly due to differing employment dependence on industries that remained in operation, such as meatpacking, or that had less demand, such as retail and hospitality. By June 2020, the unemployment rate in not persistently poor rural counties had again fallen below the rate in persistently poor rural counties, while the rate in not persistently poor urban counties again fell below the rate in persistently poor rural counties by October 2020. As of October 2021, the unemployment rates in rural counties had returned to what they were before the pandemic, but the unemployment rate remained elevated in persistently poor urban counties. This chart updates data in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition, published in November 2021.
Thursday, November 18, 2021
The public rollout of Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations in the United States began in mid-December 2020. The early phases of vaccination prioritized frontline health care workers, adults age 65 and over, individuals with high-risk medical conditions, and essential workers. During this period, vaccination rates in metro (urban) and nonmetro (rural) counties increased at about the same rate, and by mid-April 2021, total vaccination rates for the Nation were slightly above 20 percent. After April 19, 2021, when all adults became eligible for vaccination, the share of fully vaccinated residents increased faster in metro counties than in nonmetro counties. In addition, the vaccination rate was consistently lower in persistently poor counties than in counties that were not persistently poor. Persistently poor counties are counties in which 20 percent or more of the population lived at or below the Federal poverty line during four consecutive U.S. census measurements dating to 1980. In July 2021, the highly infectious Delta variant began to spread. Rural persistently poor counties led the Nation in new infections through much of this surge, and the gap in vaccination rates between persistently poor and other counties started to close in mid-August. However, the rural-urban vaccination gap persisted. By early October 2021, the vaccination rate in urban counties had reached 53 percent, while the vaccination rate in rural counties was about 42 percent. This chart is included in the USDA Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition, published November 17, 2021.