Report: Rural Counties’ Being Reclassified as Urban Can Mask Their Successes

Researchers from Montana say that the well-established narrative about rural decline tells only a part of the story. Looking at the counties that went from rural to urban reveals what propelled growth among some of the rural areas.

Research by Headwaters Economics shows we’ve been measuring rural growth wrong. As rural counties add population, they can grow out of their rural category and take their economic growth with them.

“Rural America is reported as declining in part because we no longer count as Rural those counties that grew into a Metro classification. We are measuring those counties that stay Rural which, by definition, have not grown,” stated the report.

The research showed that 48% of counties that were classified as rural in 1970 grew into metropolitan counties by 2018. But the ones that remained rural had their share of success as well. For example, the average poverty rate in rural counties overall dropped 26% between 1970 and 2018.

The team from Bozeman, Montana found commonalities among counties that switched from rural to urban and among those that remained rural.

While the majority of “switcher” counties are located close to existing cities, they are also more likely to have diversified economies and be home to a university.

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