ST. PAUL — While the United States' overall economy has picked up steam in the decade since the Great Recession, some parts of America still lag behind.
A United States Department of Agriculture report released in November illustrates the urban-rural divide, which has, by some metrics, deepened over the past 10 years.
Non-metro counties located close to metros or that have overall higher populations have kept pace with their metro counterparts. However, the country's most rural and isolated counties lag behind. Their populations are on the decline, employment rates are down, poverty rates have increased and residents' personal incomes have dropped in the past decade.
Overall, population in America's non-metro counties has declined this decade. In July 2010, 46.3 Americans lived in non-metro counties. Eight years later, in July 2018, 46.1 million Americans lived in non-metro counties, marking a 0.4% decline.
While the non-metro population has grown in the past two years alone, those gains — approximately 54,000 from 2016 to 2018 — do not offset the first-ever non-metro population decline earlier this decade. Between 2010 and 2016, non-metro counties saw a 260,000-person decline.
Population changes due to natural causes — births and deaths — are also at a historic low in non-metro counties, gaining 272,000 from natural changes between 2010 and 2018. These gains did not offset non-metro counties' population losses from net out-migration, which totaled 478,000 in those same years.
In contrast, metro counties saw population increases of almost 7% between 2010 and 2018. The greatest population losses were seen in America's most rural, isolated counties.
While employment, overall, is on the rise across the country, America's non-metro counties gains are lagging behind their metro counterparts.
Between 2010 and 2018, metro employment increased by 1.5%, compared to only 0.4% in non-metro counties. Employment growth has been faster in more populous non-metro counties, — about 4% in those years — while the country's most rural, isolated counties have actually seen a 0.4% decline in employment rates.
By the second quarter of 2019, employment rates in non-metro counties remained more than 1% below pre-Great Recession levels. Meanwhile, employment in metro counties has exceeded pre-recession levels by 9%.
Poverty and wealth
Since a peak in 2013, poverty rates have been on the decline across the country, but remain higher in America's more rural counties.
In 2011, non-metro counties' poverty rate was approximately 18.5%. Six years later in 2017, it was 16.4%. In metro counties, the poverty rate was approximately 15.5% in 2011, and dropped to 12.9% by 2017.
One way to measure economic health is through Personal Income Per Person, or PIPP. According to the report, PIPP remains lower and is growing more slowly in non-metro counties than in their metro counterparts, causing the income gap between metro and non-metro counties to widen over time.
Between 2010 and 2017, real (adjusted for inflation) PIPP in metro counties grew 13.5%, compared to 9.7% in non-metro counties. By 2017, PIPP reached approximately $54,000 in metro counties, compared to about $40,000 in non-metro. And in the country's most rural and isolated counties, PIPP has declined since 2015.
Part of the reason for this income gap, USDA theorizes, is because of losses in America's agricultural and mining markets. After farming- and mining-related incomes peaked in 2013 and 2014 respectively, incomes in these industries have dropped dramatically because of lower agricultural commodity prices and lower gas and oil prices.
In farming-dependent non-metro counties, PIPP declined by 5.1% between 2013 and 2017, per the report. And between 2014 and 2017, PIPP fell 7.8% in mining-dependent counties.
For non-metro counties that are not dependent upon farming and mining, PIPP has actually grown. Notably, non-metro counties with recreation have seen the greatest exponential PIPP gains in the last decade, and have had the highest PIPP among non-metro counties every year since 2014.