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Some demographic discoveries about rural America

Brief by Central Staff

Rural Life – November 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

1. One-fourth of U.S. schoolchildren go to schools in rural areas or small towns of less than 25,000 in population. Fourteen percent go to school in even less populated places with fewer than 2,500 people.

2. Rural people are so widely dispersed that they are politically invisible. They are a demographic and political majority in only five states — Maine, Mississippi, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia — and a handful of congressional districts.

3. Even in states with a numerically large rural population, rural people are often a particularly small demographic minority. California has 2.2 million rural people — more than all but seven states — but these people constitute less than 8% of California’s population.

4. Rural America is as diverse as urban America, especially among the young. Minorities constituted 17% of all rural residents in 1997. Well over one-third of the rural population of each of the four minority groups was under age 18 in 1997, compared with only one-fourth of the rural white population.

5. Rural America is far poorer than metropolitan areas as a whole, and nearly as poor as central cities. Of the 250 poorest counties in America, 244 are rural.

6. Poverty is especially prevalent among rural minorities. In fact, if you are African-American, your chances of living in poverty are greater if you live in rural America than if you live in the inner city.

7. Some of our most urban states are also our most rural states:

— Only 1 in 10 New Jerseyites lives in a rural place, but that’s more rural people than there are in Maine, where more than half the population lives in rural places.

— A higher percentage of Pennsylvanians live in rural places than Kansans.

(Excerpted from Why Rural Matters, a report on rural education prepared by the Rural School & Community Trust. Parts of the report are available at, and the full text is available for $10 from email; telephone 202-955-7177; postal 808 17th St. NW, Washington DC 20006.)