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What is Rural?

Ideas and definitions relating to the term rural are diverse. The federal government classifies areas and population for statistical, programming, and funding purposes. When applying for grants and funding or conducting research one should refer to the rural definition provided by the agency or organization.

The Census Bureau defines rural as "any population, housing, or territory NOT  in an urban area .  Its definition of rural is closely tied to its urban definition. There are two types of urban areas: 

  • "Urbanized Areas"- populations of 50,000 or more , and
  •  "Urban Clusters"- populations of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000

This undated image from the Beverly Thomas Galloway Papers in the NAL's Special Collections shows a family in front of a house and is titled Resting at Laguna Beach, California, after ten years of hard work. 

Rural Data and Statistics

  • USDA. ​​Economic Research Service (ERS)
    • The Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America: an interactive map tool and data source which provides statistics on 5 broad categories and socioeconomic factors: demographic data on people and veterans; jobs, county classifications, and income 
    • Data for Rural Analysis: data sets produced and maintained by ERS that are used by policymakers and researchers to identify rural and urban areas
    • State Fact Sheets: interactive map and data including state and county information
  • National Center for Education Statistics: NCES revised their definitions for school locale types in 2006 after working with the Census Bureau to create a new classification system
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
  • U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
    • ​​Rural Veterans: VA rural definitions, demographics, assistance and care

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