ERS Charts of Note
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Educational attainment improved in rural America but educational gap with urban areas grew for bachelor's degrees and higher
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.
Unemployment rates have recovered to pre-pandemic levels but remain higher in persistently poor rural and urban counties
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.
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.
Unemployment rates are again at pre-pandemic levels in rural counties, still higher in persistently poor urban counties
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.
Friday, September 3, 2021
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) show that wage and salary employment in agriculture was stable in the 2000s. Starting in 2010, it gradually increased from 1.07 million jobs to 1.17 million jobs in 2020—a gain of 9 percent. From 2010-20, growth was fastest in the livestock sub-sector, which added 41,300 jobs, an 18 percent increase, and in crop support services, which added 38,000 jobs, a 13 percent increase. Firms in the crop and livestock support sub-sectors provide specialized services to farmers including farm labor contracting, custom harvesting, and animal breeding services. By comparison, employment of direct hires in the crop sub-sector, which has the largest number of hired farm workers, remained essentially unchanged. Data from QCEW is based on unemployment insurance records, not on surveys of farms or households. As a result, it does not cover smaller farm employers in States that exempt such employers from participation in the unemployment insurance system. However, survey data from sources such as the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey also showed rising farm employment since the turn of the century. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page for Farm Labor, updated August 2021.
Monday, June 14, 2021
With fewer young immigrants entering the U.S. farm workforce, the average age of foreign-born hired farmworkers rose in 2019. That, in turn, pulled up the average age for the U.S. farm workforce as a whole. According to the latest data from the American Community Survey, the average age of foreign-born farmworkers increased by nearly 7 years from 2006 to 2019, from 35.7 to 41.6 years. In contrast, the average age for farmworkers born in the United States remained roughly constant over the same period. The average age of all farmworkers increased from 35.8 years in 2006 to 39.5 years in 2019. U.S. farmworkers, who make up less than 1 percent of the Nation’s workforce, are more likely to be Hispanic of Mexican origin and less likely to be citizens than are workers in occupations other than agriculture, according to the American Community Survey. This chart updates data found in the October 2020 Amber Waves data feature, “U.S. Farm Employers Respond to Labor Market Changes With Higher Wages, Use of Visa Program, and More Women Workers.”
Fentanyl and other illicit opioids replaced prescription drugs as drivers of the opioid epidemic in 2011
Friday, April 2, 2021
Since the late 1990s, an opioid epidemic has afflicted the U.S. population, particularly those in the prime working ages of 25-54. As a result, the National age-adjusted mortality rate from drug overdoses rose from 6.1 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 21.7 per 100,000 in 2017, then dipped to 20.7 per 100,000 in 2018 and rose back to 21.6 in 2019. Among the prime working age population, the drug overdose mortality rate was 37.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. This rate was exceeded only by cancer (39.2 deaths per 100,000) in 2019 as a major cause of death in this population. ERS researchers, examining the opioid epidemic from 1999 to 2018, observed two distinct phases: a “prescription opioid phase” (1999-2011) and a succeeding “illicit opioid phase” (2011-2018), marked especially by the spread of fentanyl and its analogs. Updated data show the second phase has extended into 2019. Mortality data indicate that in the prescription opioid phase, drug overdose deaths were most prevalent in areas with high rates of physical disability, such as central Appalachia. Rural residents, middle-age men and women in their 40s and early 50s were most affected, as were Whites and American Indian/Alaskan Natives. Opioid prescriptions ceased driving the epidemic in 2011 as increased regulation and greater awareness of prescription addiction problems took hold. The illicit opioid phase that followed involved primarily heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Fentanyl and its analogs are often used to spike other addictive drugs, including prescription opioids, creating powerful combinations that make existing drug addictions more lethal. During the study period, this second phase was concentrated in the northeastern United States, particularly in areas of employment loss. This phase most often involved urban young adult males, ages 25 to 39. All the racial/ethnic groups studied—Hispanics, Blacks, American Indian/Alaskan Natives, and Whites—were affected. This chart updates data found in the Economic Research Service report The Opioid Epidemic: A Geography in Two Phases, released April 2021.
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Higher educational attainment generally is associated with higher median earnings, higher employment rates, and greater workforce opportunity. Among all rural residents who are 25 years old or older, the percentage who had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher rose from 15 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2019. In addition, the share of the rural population 25 or older without a high school degree or equivalent dropped from 24 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2019. However, ethnic and racial disparities persist in education. Rural Hispanics continued to have the highest share of people without a high school degree in 2019 at 34 percent, despite significant gains in high school and higher educational attainment rates since 2000. Over the same period, Blacks or African Americans had the largest decrease of rural individuals without a high school degree (21 percentage points). This change narrowed the gap between the shares of Blacks or African Americans and Whites who had graduated from high school but had not completed a bachelor’s degree. Nevertheless, the share of rural Blacks or African Americans without a high school degree (20 percent) was nearly double that of Whites (11 percent) in 2019. This chart updates data found in the November 2020 Amber Waves finding, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Educational Attainment Persist in Rural America.”
Monday, December 7, 2020
Higher educational attainment is associated with higher median earnings, higher employment rates, and greater workforce opportunity. Among all rural residents who are 25 years old or older, the percentage of those who had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher rose from 15 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2018. In addition, the share of the rural population 25 or older without a high school degree or equivalent dropped from 24 percent in 2000 to 13 percent in 2018. Even so, ethnic and racial disparities persist in education. Rural Hispanics continued to have the highest share (35 percent) without a high school degree, despite significant gains in high school and higher educational attainment rates between 2000 and 2018. Over the same period, Blacks or African Americans had the largest decrease (20 percentage points) of rural individuals without a high school degree. This change eliminated the gap between the shares of Blacks or African Americans and Whites who had graduated from high school but had not completed a bachelor’s degree. Nevertheless, the share of rural Blacks or African Americans without a high school degree remained nearly double that of Whites in 2018. This chart appears in the November 2020 Amber Waves finding, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Educational Attainment Persist in Rural America.”
Monday, July 13, 2020
Between 2014 and 2018, the United States had 316 counties with low levels of educational attainment, meaning 20 percent or more of working-age adults (ages 25-64) living in the county lacked a high school diploma or equivalent. The majority of those counties—about 4 out of 5—were in rural (nonmetro) areas. Low-education rural counties were predominantly in the South (nearly 80 percent or 208 counties) and the economies of more than one-third (116 counties) relied on farming or manufacturing. Nearly half (156 counties) were high poverty counties, with a poverty rate of 20 percent or more, and most of those counties (113 counties) also had persistently high poverty over three or more decades. In addition, almost 60 percent of low-education rural counties were in areas where African Americans alone (70 counties) or Hispanics of any race (115 counties) accounted for 20 percent or more of the total population. In these counties, the low-education rates for African Americans or Hispanics were substantially higher than corresponding rates for white (non-Hispanic) individuals. This chart appears on the ERS topic page for Rural Education, updated May 2020.
Friday, March 29, 2019
Between 1964 and 1973, an estimated 8.8 million persons were drafted or volunteered to serve in the U.S. armed forces during the period of the Vietnam war, according to U.S. Census Bureau reports. As of 2017, there were about 6.8 million Vietnam-era veterans in the United States, ranging in age from 55 to nearly 100 (average age, 68). About 1.3 million, or 19.2 percent, of them lived in rural America. In total, Vietnam-era veterans made up 39.6 percent of all rural veterans and 52.1 percent of rural veterans who served during wartime. By comparison, Vietnam-era veterans represented 35.1 percent of all urban veterans and 45.4 percent of urban veterans who served during wartime. Among rural Vietnam veterans, 4.2 percent of them also served in post-Vietnam conflicts. However, Vietnam-era veterans represent a very different sociodemographic group compared to other post-Vietnam veterans. Not only are they older on average, but they are also less diverse in gender and race. Vietnam veterans are also more likely to be disabled (although not necessarily service-related), have higher educational attainment rates, and lower poverty rates than post-Vietnam veterans. This chart uses data from the ERS data product Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America, updated February 2019.
Friday, November 9, 2018
Rural veterans find themselves in a better employment position today than they did in the years following the Great Recession. The unemployment rate for rural veterans has declined since peaking at 10.3 percent in 2010. In 2017, it stood at 4.6 percent, its lowest rate in the last decade. The unemployment rate for young rural veterans (ages 18 to 34) has seen a large decline too—from a high of 15.7 percent in 2009 to 7.1 percent in 2017. Young transitioning veterans can face high unemployment due to service-related disability or a lack of civilian work experience, which become greater obstacles when the economy is weak. Although the post-recession national economic upturn is driving a drop in unemployment for all veterans, a concerted national effort to hire veterans also appears to be helping close the employment gap for young veterans. That effort includes greater recognition of the skills veterans learn during their service—such as discipline and timeliness—and the value of those skills on the job. This chart provides an update to the ERS report, Rural Veterans at a Glance.
Monday, October 22, 2018
Although the overall educational attainment of rural adults has increased markedly over time, the share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is still higher in urban areas. Between 2000 and 2016, the share of urban adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher grew from 26 percent to 33 percent, while in rural areas the share grew from 15 percent to 19 percent. This gap may be partly due to the higher pay premiums offered in urban areas to workers with college degrees. Also, between 2000 and 2016, the share of rural adults with less than a high school diploma or equivalent decreased from 24 percent to 14 percent. That decline closed the rural-urban gap in high school completion rates: over the same period, the share of urban adults without a high school degree or equivalent fell from 19 percent to 12 percent. This chart appears on the ERS topic page for Rural Education, updated August 2018.
Friday, September 7, 2018
The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey show that workers with higher levels of education had higher median earnings, both in rural and urban areas. For example, median earnings for rural working adults with a high school diploma were $27,773 in 2016, which was $6,243 more than the median for rural working adults without a high school diploma or equivalent. Urban workers without a high school diploma earned about the same as their rural counterparts. However, at every higher level of educational attainment, the typical urban worker earned increasingly more than the typical rural worker with the same education. This rural-urban earnings gap was lowest ($350) for workers with less than a high school diploma or equivalent and largest ($18,273) for those with graduate or professional degrees. Educational attainment is only one of many potential characteristics that determine the wages that workers earn. Other characteristics not shown in the chart—such as work experience, job tenure, and ability—may also contribute to earnings. This chart appears on the ERS topic page for Rural Education, updated August 2018.
Friday, August 24, 2018
USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program provides grants intended to help farmers and ranchers add greater value to agricultural commodities, such as through additional processing or marketing of new products. For example, producers could adopt organic practices, turn berries into jam, or process meat into sausage. The number of grants and the amount of grant money obligated under the VAPG program have fluctuated substantially since the program began in 2001. That year, USDA issued 62 VAPGs worth nearly $19.9 million in total funding. In 2015, by comparison, USDA issued 365 grants worth a total of about $44.2 million. Data fluctuated from year to year, largely due to VAPG funds rolling over to the next fiscal year. In many cases, a fiscal year included obligations for two VAPG cycles. Or in the case of 2002 and 2009, there were no obligations due to combining fiscal years for one VAPG cycle. This chart appears in the May 2018 ERS report, USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program and Its Effect on Business Survival and Growth.
USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grants concentrated in the north-central, western, and northeastern United States
Monday, July 9, 2018
USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program provides grants intended to enable farmers and ranchers to add greater value to agricultural commodities, such as through additional processing or marketing of new products. For example, producers could adopt organic practices, turn berries into jam, or process meat into sausage. Between 2001 and 2015, the program provided a total of 2,345 grants to farmers and ranchers—a total value of $318 million, or about $136,000 per grant, on average. These grants were concentrated mainly in the north-central, western, and northeastern regions of the United States. The north-central States of Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Nebraska, and Minnesota received a combined 28 percent of all grants. Overall, a little over half of grant recipients were located in rural (nonmetro) counties. Promotion of value-added agriculture has been seen by some researchers and policymakers as a strategy to promote increased rural employment and income. This chart appears in the May 2018 ERS report Impacts of USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grants Program on Business Survival and Growth.
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
On May 29, 2018, the Chart of Note article “Rural economies depend on different industries” was reposted to correct the industry classification of a few counties and, in the legend, show the number of rural counties only, instead of all counties.
Rural counties depend on different industries to support their economies. Counties’ employment levels are more sensitive to economic trends that strongly affect their leading industries. For example, trends in agricultural prices have a disproportionate effect on farming-dependent counties, which accounted for nearly 20 percent of all rural counties and 6 percent of the rural population in 2017. Likewise, the boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production that peaked in 2012 increased employment in many mining-dependent rural counties. Meanwhile, the decline in manufacturing employment has particularly affected manufacturing-dependent counties, which accounted for about 18 percent of rural counties and 22 percent of the rural population in 2017. This chart is based on the ERS data product for County Typology Codes, updated May 2017.
A hypothetical increase in U.S. agricultural exports is estimated to add rural jobs across different agri-food sectors
Friday, May 18, 2018
ERS estimates that U.S. agricultural exports, totaling about $135 billion in 2016, supported about 1.1 million full-time, civilian jobs. Using a model of the U.S. economy with a base year of 2013, ERS researchers found that a hypothetical 10-percent increase in foreign demand for U.S. agricultural exports would add about 41,500 jobs, or about a 0.03-percent increase in total U.S. employment. About 42 percent would be in rural areas—where employment in agriculture and food manufacturing would increase by about 18,200 jobs, while employment in other sectors would decrease by nearly 700 jobs as some labor shifts into agriculture. The net effect on employment was positive for 17 of the 20 agri-food sectors in the analysis, with the largest increases in field crops, livestock, and poultry and egg. This reflects the large initial shares of exports and employment in these sectors, relative to other agri-food sectors. Field crops alone accounted for nearly 57 percent of the increase in agri-food rural employment. This chart is based on data that appears in the April 2017 ERS report The Potential Effects of Increased Demand for U.S. Agricultural Exports on Metro and Nonmetro Employment.
Average employment grew more rapidly for Value-Added Producer Grant recipients after receiving the grants
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program provides grants intended to help farmers and ranchers add greater value to agricultural commodities, such as through additional processing or marketing of new products. For example, producers could adopt organic practices, turn berries into jam, or process meat into sausage. Between 2001 and 2015, the program provided a total of 2,345 grants to farmers and ranchers—totaling $318 million, or about $136,000 per grant on average. ERS researchers investigated the effect of the VAPG program on job creation by comparing employment trends pre- and post-grant for VAPG recipients and similar non-recipients. No significant difference in average employment levels was found between the two groups before the grants were received. However, average employment grew more rapidly for VAPG recipients than non-recipients after receipt of the VAPGs. The researchers found that grant recipients employed five to six more workers on average than non-recipients 1 to 5 years after the grant was received. However, given a 95-percent confidence interval, these job growth numbers can vary between about 2 to 10 jobs. At the time of the grants, these businesses employed around 14 employees on average. This chart appears in the May 2018 ERS report Impacts of USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program and Its Effect on Business Survival and Growth.
Employment in rural inpatient healthcare facilities was relatively more concentrated in the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Rural inpatient healthcare facilities—such as general hospitals, nursing care facilities, and residential mental health facilities—can improve the health and economic well-being of local communities. At its peak in 2011, rural inpatient healthcare employment reached over 1.25 million wage and salary jobs, or about 8.5 percent of total rural (wage and salary) employment. However, employment in the rural inpatient healthcare sector varies by region. Between 2001 and 2015, rural counties with the most inpatient healthcare facility jobs per resident were concentrated in the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains. Regions with fewer inpatient healthcare jobs per resident include much of the West, the Southern Great Plains, and the South. The regional variation in rural healthcare employment per resident may reflect in part the relatively heavier dependence of some sparsely populated areas on hospital employment, and the difficulty many rural communities face in attracting and retaining physicians and other healthcare professionals. One study found, for example, that over 85 percent of rural counties had a shortage of primary care health professionals in 2005. Additionally, between January 2010 and December 2016, 78 rural hospitals closed—about 4 percent of the 1,855 total rural hospitals. This chart appears in the ERS report, Employment Spillover Effects of Rural Inpatient Healthcare Facilities, released November 2017.