U.S. Divisions Between Urban and Rural Aren't as Clear as Politicians Suggest

Urban vs. rural is just one example of the many false dichotomies presented as fact during the presidential campaign. A more nuanced understanding of these terms reveals more of the country's real character.

August 5, 2016, 9:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Rural Utah

Scenes like this one nesr Park City, Utah are only 20 miles away from Salt Lake City. | Johnny Adolphson / Shutterstock

"Notwithstanding…political divisions, a close look at the data shows that urban and rural America are not as distant, economically or geographically, as the rhetoric may suggest," according to an article by Alan Berube.

To back up that argument, Berube calls on the definitions used by the U.S. Census Bureau to distinguish between urban and rural. "The Bureau classifies more densely developed areas as urban, and identifies large clusters of urban territory (with populations exceeding 50,000) as 'urbanized areas.' Urbanized areas, in turn, form the basis for identifying metropolitan areas, which approximate regional labor markets…" Areas that don't meet urban densities are classified as rural.

The catch, however, is that many of those rural areas are included in metropolitan areas. In fact, according to Berube, 54 percent of people living in areas classified as rural also live in metropolitan areas. "These 32 million residents of rural communities are thus part of wider labor markets that cluster around one or more cities, and most of them likely live within a reasonable commuting distance of those cities," writes Berube.

Rather than trying to make rural communities seem more urban, however, Berube's argument serves to prove the proximity, economically and geographically, of urban and rural communities. 

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