USDA updates information on conditions and trends in rural income, poverty and welfare

September 21, 2011 | General RCAP News

The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) has provided an update of conditions and trends in the areas of rural income, poverty, and welfare as of Sept. 17. ERS research in this area focuses on the economic, social, and demographic factors that affect the income and poverty status of rural residents and their participation in federal assistance programs, including food assistance programs.

The summary states:

Unprecedented economic growth during the 1990s benefited rural areas, but some of that benefit has since been lost due to nationwide recession. Between 1993 and 2000, real median income for nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) households grew by 10.5 percent and the percentage of people in poverty fell from 17.2 to 13.4 percent. Between 2000 and 2009, nonmetro median household income decreased from $40,999 to $40,135 (in 2009 dollars), while the nonmetro poverty rate rose from 13.4 percent to 16.6 percent. The 2010 nonmetro poverty rate (16.5 percent) did not change significantly from 2009.

The past 10 years have also seen the continuation of a 30-year trend toward rising government transfer payments to nonmetro residents, which in 2009 accounted for 24.9 percent of nonmetro personal income, compared to 15.2 percent in metro areas. The increase is mainly a result of the rising cost of medical care nationwide.  However, recessionary growth in unemployment insurance compensation and food stamp payments has also been a contributing factor.  The nonmetro/metro difference is largely due to a higher proportion of older people and persons with disabilities in nonmetro areas.     

The share of residents with incomes below the poverty level is also greater in nonmetro than in metropolitan (metro) areas, a trend that has persisted since the 1960s when poverty rates were first officially recorded. In both metro and nonmetro areas, poverty is similarly characterized as unequally distributed by race/ethnicity, family structure, and age. Areas with a high incidence of poverty are concentrated in the South, and most reflect the relatively low income of their racial/ethnic minorities, female-headed families, and households with children.

All regions and most nonmetro population groups have recently experienced poverty rate increases due to the 2007 to 2009 recession, but single-parent families and Hispanics in particular have been significantly impacted. In total, an estimated 7.9 million people living in nonmetro areas were poor in 2010, which is .6 million greater than the number of nonmetro poor in 2008.

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