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What is Rural?

Trying to define what "rural" is, in a nation of such diverse geography, can be a daunting task; and one's concept of the term can be a bit ambiguous and vague. Particularly, in this age of instant communication, when a Montana rancher can access the New York stock market quotes from his laptop, miles from the nearest town, defining rural becomes more of a subjective term than what is defined by Webster's.

However, for those concerned with rural health care and human services, that which constitutes rural must not be subjective, but rather precise in fulfilling the definition. Federal and state policy makers, as well as service providers and researchers, need a clearly stated definition that is current in its interpretation.

There are three government agencies whose definitions of what is rural are in wide use: the U.S. Census Bureau, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They and other organizations continue to strive for more precise definitions to fit new programs as the demographics of the United States are constantly changing. The number of rural counties fluctuates over time, and disparities with old designations continually exist.

The need for a clearer definition to meet the needs of new programs and new policies has encouraged other agencies to create more detailed definitions such as found in the collaboration between the WWAMI Rural Health Research Center and the Economic Research Service of the USDA. Agencies involved with rural health and human services will continue to evolve and adapt themselves, striving to better serve the needs of the rural population, for what is rural today will most likely change as we move on into the new millennium.

Contacts

For Geographic Eligibility for Rural Health Grant Programs
Steve Hirsch, Office of Rural Health Policy
Email: shirsch@hrsa.gov
Telephone: 301.443.7322

For Geographic Eligibility for USDA - Rural Development Programs
Rural Development State Offices

There are more organizations related to What is Rural? in the organizations section.

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Last Reviewed: 9/30/2013

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Funding for this project was supported by Grant Number U56RH05539 from the Office of Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The contents of this website are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the funder.