15 definitions of “rural”

What do you consider “rural”?

To me, maybe, small town. Country. Dirt roads. One stoplight.

I came across an article from the Washington Post that shares the concern that the U.S. government has at least 15 official definitions of the word “rural,” two of which apply only to Puerto Rico and parts of Hawaii.

All of these definitions matter for rural vitality; they’re used by various agencies to parcel out $37 billion-plus in federal money for “rural development.” And each one is different.

In one program, for instance, “rural” is defined as any place with fewer than 50,000 residents.But in another, only towns smaller than 2,500 residents are “rural.” There are 11 definitions of “rural” in use within the U.S. Department of Agriculture alone.

Why is being “rural” important or not? Every year, there are billions of dollars available to fund projects in rural communities. Money for housing. Community centers. Sewer plants. Broadband connections. These are important to agriculture with the need for people to remain in rural communities.

I can understand why it would be hard to define “rural”. My definition above comes from my rural upbringings in a small town, surrounded by dirt roads and only one stoplight. However, another person’s point of view of rural growing up near a metropolis might be a city of 50,000 with only one Wal-Mart!
There is a bill in the Senate this week that would filter these definitions down to nine.

Nonetheless, having a definition is important for our rural economies and communities. Yet, why do we have to have just one definition? By the Senate’s definition, for instance, the label “rural” would apply equally to Harrisburg, Neb., population 100, and Harrisburg, Pa., a busy state capital with a population of 49,279. The Senate bill would still give smaller places priority treatment.

Even if Congress does knock six definitions off the list, in January a federal agency is planning to add a new one.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will begin using its own definition of “rural.” It’s based on a complicated measurement of urbanization and commuting patterns.

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