Rural Population

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (center) chaired a task force of Trump cabinet members looking into how to improve the rural economy.
File/Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Shoring up rural America’s economy must start with broadband access and technology, a federal task force says in a report released Monday.

The group, chaired by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and made up of other Cabinet members, says doing so will bring rural areas increased health care access, better job training, smart electrical grids and more precision farming technology. Little of that can be accomplished, the report says, without closing the broadband gap between urban and rural residents.

New apartments are being built in Holdrege, Nebraska, where an elementary school used to be.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In places where the unemployment rate is well below the national average — states like Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa — one would think it’d be easier for communities to recruit new residents to fill open jobs.

But the housing market works against rural towns and cities where jobs often stay open because there are too few affordable homes and apartments to buy or rent, or the ones that are affordable need lots of TLC. It’s a situation that threatens to turn low unemployment from an advantage into a liability.

Frank Morris / Harvest Public Media

It’s a common story: Ambitious kids move from small towns to larger cities, never to look back. When their parents die, the family wealth that’s been built over generations through farming, ranching or agriculture-related businesses often follows the kids, draining the economic lifeblood from those rural communities.

The largest generational transfer of wealth in modern times is expected to happen in the next 10 years and rural foundations in states like Iowa and Nebraska are working hard to retain at least a bit of those hundreds of millions of dollars. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture file photo

For the first time in its annual survey of rural America, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that mortality rates of working-age adults are on the rise because of opioid and heroin overdoses. 

Continuing longtime trends, rural areas are still seeing declining populations, the rebound from the Great Recession is slow and poverty remains a persistent problem, according to the USDA’s “Rural America at a Glance,” released Thursday.  

Montra Beeler may not be all that all, but she fills a huge role in the understaffed fire department in Cedar Vale, Kansas.
Frank Morris / for Harvest Public Media

If you pull a fire alarm in any large U.S. city, it's likely that paid firefighters waiting at a nearby station will quickly respond. But seven out of 10 American firefighters are volunteers. They cover vast sections of the country, making up an aging network that is increasingly understaffed and overworked.