USDA ERS - What is Rural? (2023)

USDA ERS - What is Rural? (1)

Researchers and policy officials employ many definitions to distinguish rural from urban areas, which often leads to unnecessary confusion and unwanted mismatches in program eligibility. However, the existence of multiple rural definitions reflects the reality that rural and urban are multidimensional concepts. Sometimes population density is the defining concern, in other cases it is geographic isolation. Small population size typically characterizes a rural place, but how small is rural? Population thresholds used to differentiate rural and urban communities range from 2,500 up to 50,000, depending on the definition.

Because the U.S. is a nation in which so many people live in areas that are not clearly rural or urban, seemingly small changes in the way rural areas are defined can have large impacts on who and what are considered rural. Researchers and policymakers share the task of choosing appropriately from among alternate rural definitions currently available or creating their own unique definitions.

Nonmetro Counties are Commonly Used to Depict Rural and Small-Town Trends

ERS researchers and others who analyze conditions in "rural" America most often use data on nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) areas, defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on the basis of counties or county-equivalent units (e.g., parishes, boroughs). Counties are the standard building block for publishing economic data and for conducting research to track and explain regional population and economic trends. Estimates of population, employment, and income are available for them annually. They also are frequently used as basic building blocks for areas of economic and social integration, such as labor-market areas.

A regional-economic concept underlies the formation of the metropolitan-nonmetropolitan classification. For a detailed comparison of economic, land-use, and administrative concepts underlying different rural definitions, see Defining the "Rural" in Rural America, Amber Waves, June 2008.

In 2013, OMB defined metropolitan (metro) areas as broad labor-market areas that include:

(Video) Mary Bohman, Administrator of the USDA ERS - Introduction

  1. Central counties with one or more urbanized areas; urbanized areas (described in the next section) are densely-settled urban entities with 50,000 or more people.
  2. Outlying counties that are economically tied to the core counties as measured by labor-force commuting. Outlying counties are included if 25 percent of workers living in the county commute to the central counties, or if 25 percent of the employment in the county consists of workers coming out from the central counties—the so-called "reverse" commuting pattern.

Nonmetro counties are outside the boundaries of metro areas and are further subdivided into two types:

  1. Micropolitan (micro) areas, which are nonmetro labor-market areas centered on urban clusters of 10,000-49,999 persons and defined with the same criteria used to define metro areas.
  2. All remaining counties, often labeled "noncore" counties because they are not part of "core-based" metro or micro areas.

Every 10 years, following the decennial census, nonmetro counties that have been growing rapidly enough or experiencing increasing commuting are reclassified as metro. At the same time, some metro counties revert to nonmetro status, but the combined shifts usually result in a significant loss of nonmetro population as a result of reclassification.

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Census Bureau Defines Urban and Rural Areas on the Basis of Population Density

A very different definition of rural, based on much smaller geographic building blocks, is provided by the U.S. Census in its urban-rural classification system. Whereas researchers often use the term rural when referring to nonmetro areas, and Congressional legislation uses the term when describing different targeting definitions, the Census Bureau provides the official, statistical definition of rural, based strictly on measures of population size and density. According to the current delineation, released in 2012 and based on the 2010 decennial census, rural areas comprise open country and settlements with fewer than 2,500 residents. Urban areas comprise larger places and densely settled areas around them. Urban areas do not necessarily follow municipal boundaries. They are essentially densely settled territory as it might appear from the air. Most counties, whether metro or nonmetro, contain a combination of urban and rural populations.

Urban areas are of two types—urbanized areas and urban clusters—identical in the criteria used to delineate them but different in size. The Census Bureau defines an urbanized area wherever it finds an urban nucleus of 50,000 or more people. They may or may not contain any individual cities of 50,000 or more. In general, they must have a core with a population density of 1,000 persons per square mile and may contain adjoining territory with at least 500 persons per square mile. Urbanized areas have been delineated using the same basic threshold (50,000 population) for each decennial census since 1950, but procedures for delineating the urban fringe are more liberal today.

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The same computerized procedures and population density criteria are used to identify urban clusters of at least 2,500 but less than 50,000 persons. This delineation of built-up territory around small towns and cities was first introduced in 2000. According to this system, rural areas consist of open countryside with population densities less than 500 people per square mile and places with fewer than 2,500 people.

OMB "Nonmetro" and Census "Rural" Provide Different but Equally Useful Perspectives on Rural Populations

The choice of a rural definition should be based on the purpose of the application, whether that application is for research, policy analysis, or program implementation. For instance, tracking urbanization and its influence on farmland prices is best approached using the Census urban-rural definition because it is a land-use definition that distinguishes built-up territory from immediately surrounding, less developed land. Studies designed to track and explain economic and social changes often choose to use the metro-nonmetro classification, because it reflects a regional, labor-market concept and allows the use of widely available county-level data. The key is to use a rural-urban definition that best fits the needs of a specific activity, recognizing that any simple dichotomy hides a complex rural-urban continuum, often with very gentle gradations from one level to the next.

(Video) Stacy Sneeringer, Economist in the Structure, Tech, and Productivity Branch USDA ERS - Big Data

Data Sources


What is the definition of rural according to USDA? ›

open countryside, rural towns (places with fewer than 2,500 people), and. urban areas with populations ranging from 2,500 to 49,999 that are not part of larger labor market areas (metropolitan areas).

How much of US currently qualifies as rural per the USDA? ›

The 46 million U.S. residents living in rural areas in 2020 made up 14 percent of the U.S. population.

What qualifies as rural? ›

According to this system, rural areas consist of open countryside with population densities less than 500 people per square mile and places with fewer than 2,500 people.

What does rural area status mean? ›

How does the Census define “rural”? The Census does not define “rural.” They consider “rural” to include all people, housing, and territory that are not within an urban area. Any area that is not urban is rural. The Census defines urban as: Urbanized Areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people.

What is a rural area answer? ›

A rural area is an open swath of land that has few homes or other buildings, and not very many people. A rural areas population density is very low. Many people live in a city, or urban area. Their homes and businesses are located very close to one another.

What is the difference between rural and rural? ›

Rural area or countryside is a geographic area that is located outside towns and cities.
Urban vs Rural – Comparative Analysis.
There is not much greenery in urban areas of India, since most of the land is occupied by buildings and roadsThere is more greenery in rural areas of India
10 more rows

What percentage of the US qualifies as rural for the purposes of qualifying for a USDA loan? ›

But in fact, 97% of the U.S. map is eligible for USDA loans, including many suburban areas near major cities. Any area with a population of 20,000 or less (or 35,000 or less in special cases) can be an eligible rural area.

How do you know if its urban or rural? ›

  1. Rural: population less than 10,000.
  2. Semi-Urban: 10,000 and above and less than 1 lakh.
  3. Urban: 1 lakh and above and less than 10 lakh.
  4. Metropolitan: 10 lakh and above.

What is rural vs remote area? ›

Rural areas are defined as geographic areas that are located outside towns and cities, sometimes classified as the countryside. Remote areas are defined as places that are out of the way or considerably secluded from civilisation.

What size of land is considered rural? ›

Residential property under section 66Q of the Conveyancing Act 1919 (NSW) is defined as anything non residential, or with a land area of less than 2.5 hectares (6.2 acres). As such, property in excess of 2.5 hectares (whether it be solely residential or farmland) is considered rural.

What are the three types of rural? ›

Rural settlements in India can broadly be put into four types: • Clustered, agglomerated or nucleated, • Semi-clustered or fragmented, • Hamleted, and • Dispersed or isolated.

How are rural addresses determined? ›

Rural Address means the address assigned by the County which identifies the primary access to a Parcel of Land determined using a basic grid derived from the Township and Range Roads.

What are the 4 types of rural settlements? ›

Rural settlement patterns include linear, rectangular, circular, or semi-circular, and triangular rural settlement patterns. Types of rural settlements reflect the geographic proximity of houses according to their distances.

What is an example of a rural area? ›

In general, a rural area or a countryside is a geographic area that is located outside towns and cities. Typical rural areas have a low population density and small settlements. Agricultural areas and areas with forestry typically are described as rural.

What classes are considered a rural area? ›

Wherever possible, the Rural-Urban Classification is used to distinguish rural and urban areas. The Classification defines areas as rural if they fall outside of settlements with more than 10,000 resident population.

What are 3 characteristics of a rural area? ›

The important features of a rural community are:
  • Communities are smaller in size and sparsely populated (i.e the density of population is less).
  • The population shows homogeneity of language, culture, customs etc.
  • The main occupation is agriculture.
  • People live in close contact with nature.
  • Slower means of communication.

What is the nearest meaning of rural area? ›

nounforests; land distant from settled area. backcountry. boondocks. frontier. hinterland.

What is difference between urban and rural areas? ›

Meaning: Urban areas are those areas where the population is very high and has the features of a built environment. Rural areas are those areas which are located on the outskirts.

What are 3 differences between urban and rural areas? ›

The five differences between rural and urban areas are based on population size, development, division of labour, social mobility, and the type of environment.

Does USDA look at gross or net income? ›

Use the gross amount, before any payroll deductions, of base wages and salaries, overtime pay, commissions, fees, tips, bonuses, housing allowances and other compensations for personal services of all adult members of the household, unless they meet the exclusion criteria of 3555.152(b)(2) and Attachment 9-A.

What credit score do you need for a USDA loan? ›

The USDA doesn't have a fixed credit score requirement, but most lenders offering USDA-guaranteed mortgages require a score of at least 640, and 640 is the minimum credit score you'll need to qualify for automatic approval through the USDA's automated loan underwriting system.

What is rural vs urban living? ›

The life in urban areas is fast and complicated, whereas rural life is simple and relaxed. The Urban settlement includes cities and towns. On the other hand, the rural settlement includes villages and hamlets. There is greater isolation from nature in urban areas, due to the existence of the built environment.

What is a rural area spacing? ›

Definition. The rural or predominantly-rural space comprises all the small urban units and rural municipalities that do not belong to the predominantly-urban space (urban hubs, suburban rims and multicentric municipalities).

What are examples of remote areas? ›

Remote Areas means geographic areas that are unsafe to travel without taking some important precautions such as determining road and weather conditions. Remote Areas include, without limitation, Death Valley or any area described on a map as a desert.

What are the 6 types of rural land use? ›

All kinds of rural land use are involved: agriculture, pastoralism, forestry, wildlife conservation and tourism.

What percentage is rural? ›

Rural areas in the United States, often referred to as rural America, consists of approximately 97% of the United States' land area. An estimated 60 million people, or one-in-five residents (17.9% of the total U.S. population), live in rural America.

What defines an agricultural land in a rural area? ›

Rural Agricultural land It means an agricultural land in India - (a). If situated in any area which is comprised within the jurisdiction of a municipality and its population is less than 10,000, or. (b). If situated outside the limits of municipality,then situated at a distance measured-

Which of the following is not a rural settlement? ›

The correct option is D Spherical.

What determines your mailing address? ›

A mailing address is an address that senders can use to send you postal mail. For many people and businesses, this is your home or office address. However, for some people or businesses, a mailing address is not their home or office address. A common example of a mailing address is a P.O.

What determines your street address? ›

The numbers begin at the end of the road nearest the city, village, or post office, or where the road joins a more important highway. There would be a hundred units to each mile or about 53 feet to a unit.

What are the three factors that affect rural settlement? ›

Rural Settlements are influenced by three factors namely physical factors, ethnic and cultural factors, and historical or defensive factors.

What are the five functions of rural settlement? ›

Settlement functions can be grouped into a number of categories, such as residential, recreational, retail, government, entertainment and industrial.

What is the most important feature of a rural settlement? ›

Settlements are small and sparsely spaced. Derive their life support or basic economic needs from land-based primary economic activities. Rural people are less mobile and therefore, social relations among them are intimate.

How are rural land use classified? ›

Land use in rural areas can be classified into Arable land, Fallow Land, Forest Land, and Grassland. In urban areas land is used for different purposes. It is necessary to make maximum use of the land. In urban areas with reference to population, the land is limited.

What is rural vs suburban? ›

There are lots of houses in suburban areas, but not as many other buildings as urban areas—maybe just one or two small shops or stores. A rural community is one with lots of nature and open spaces, with fewer people and buildings than urban or suburban areas.

What are 5 differences between urban and rural areas? ›

The five differences between rural and urban areas are based on population size, development, division of labour, social mobility, and the type of environment.

What are the 5 characteristics of a rural region? ›

Rural Community: Top 10 Characteristics of the Rural Community– Explained!
  • a. Size of the Community: ...
  • b. Density of Population: ...
  • c. Agriculture is the Main Occupation: ...
  • d. Close Contact with Nature: ...
  • e. Homogeneity of Population: ...
  • f. Social Stratification: ...
  • g. Social Interaction: ...
  • h. Social Mobility:

Is a city rural suburban or urban? ›

In the United States, urban areas are defined by a population of more than 1,000 people per block of area. Rural areas are the least populated areas. Suburban areas have a larger population than rural areas; however, urban areas have a larger population than both.

What are the 3 types of community? ›

Community types: urban, rural and suburban.

Is a city rural or urban? ›

"Urban area" can refer to towns, cities, and suburbs. An urban area includes the city itself, as well as the surrounding areas.

Why is living in rural areas better? ›

Ultimately, rural living conceals an endless list of very important health benefits. From fresh food and clean air to quiet surroundings, off-grid opportunities, and close-knit communities, there is so much that will do both your physical and mental wellbeing a world of good.

How can you differentiate rural local government and urban local government? ›

Two major forms of local self-government exist in India: In the urban areas, that is, in cities and towns, local self-governance is carried out by municipalities and corporations. In the rural areas, that is, in villages, Zila Parishad, block samitis, and panchayats carry out the functions of local self-governance.


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