A call for clear-eyed definitions of rural
What “counts” as rural depends on who you ask. And while the my-town-is-smaller-than-your-town squabble can be just a bit of fun between rival sports teams or neighboring towns, the size and classification of a community has very real dollars-and-cents impacts. A recent Center on Rural Innovation article highlighted that there are more than a dozen federal definitions of rural that impact both the flow of funding to, and the stories told about, rural places.
This isn’t the first go at this topic. The Census definition of rural traces back to the founding of our country while other definitions have developed for specific uses over time. Nearly ten years ago, we published a blog that looked at the how the different definitions of rural are used in different conversations and contexts. Not a lot has changed since then.
What has changed is the intensity of which these definitions matter. Census 2020 data is still being released, shaping funding and representation for rural. That, combined with historic amounts of federal funding and polarizing stories about rural places and people, are coloring national perceptions and decision making. These definitions matter and, until there’s a better solution, it’s prudent of all rural-serving organizations to understand and clearly identify which definition is being used to make decisions and draw conclusions. We encourage you to read the blog, “Defining rural America: The consequences of how we count.” It will give you a thorough look at how these definitions matter to the future of rural places.
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