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What is Rural?

Ideas and definitions relating to the term rural are diverse.  The Census Bureau defines rural as any population, housing, or territory not in an urban area.  This definition is closely tied to its urban definition, of which there are two geographical types: 

  • "Urbanized Areas" have a population of 50,000 or more.

  • "Urban Clusters" have a population between 2,500 and 50,000.

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 offering agency or organization.

(Image: Unknown. “Resting at Laguna Beach, Cal., after ten years of hard work.” Special Collections, USDA National Agricultural Library.)

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 tools that include state and county information.

  • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

    locale classification is a general geographic indicator that describes the type of area where a school is located. NCES classifies all territory in the U.S. into four types – Rural, Town, Suburban, and City, and each type is divided into three subtypes based on population size or proximity to populated areas.

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
  • U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
    • ​​Rural Veterans 

      Almost 25% of all Veterans in the United States reside in rural communities. VA uses the Rural-Urban Commuting Areas (RUCA) system to define rurality.

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