urban-rural definitions


We had an interesting discussion a while back on urban-rural definitions and it prompted me to look at the latest Census Bureau definitions that came out in late December 


I'm looking at some of the changes -- in a nutshellf the 'urban' definition was restricted to a minimum 5,000 (up from 2,500)  population OR 2,000 housing units (a new metric), causing a number of places between 2,500 and 5,000 population to change from 'urban' to 'rural' and a handful of places with low population but high housing units (they seem to be spots for vacation rentals or second homes) to change from 'rural' to 'urban'

My question since there are so many involved with grants and other funding support here -- does this make any practical difference for funding? Preliminary questioning led me to documentation like this suggesting that, at least for health care, this Urban Area definition is not considered useful for funding purposes because it doesn't follow county or municipal boundaries. BUT under certain conditions the presence of a UA can determine whether an 'outlying' county in a metro can be considered rural. "Starting in FY 2022, we’ll consider all outlying metro counties without a UA to be rural." according to this https://www.hrsa.gov/rural-health/about-us/what-is-rural

Has anybody heard of any effects of these changed 'rural' definitions on funding or anything else as a practical matter? I'm having a hard time finding specific cases, if you know of any I'd love to hear on or off the list -- Tim Henderson, Pew Stateline

  • Beg pardon the housing unit change led to some changes from rural to urban, not the other way around, for some tourism areas with low population and high housing units 

  • Changes in rural definitions, such as the ones you mentioned, can have practical implications for funding decisions. In many cases, funding agencies use rural designations to determine which areas are eligible for certain funding programs or to allocate resources to specific regions.

    For example, the change in definition of outlying metro counties without a UA to be considered rural may make these areas eligible for rural health funding programs. This could result in increased funding opportunities for healthcare organizations and providers serving these areas.

    Similarly, changes in rural designations can also impact other areas such as education, housing, and economic development. For instance, eligibility for grants or other funding programs aimed at promoting economic development in rural areas may be affected by changes in rural definitions.

    It's important to note that the impact of these changes may vary depending on the specific funding program and agency involved. Therefore, it's always advisable to check with the relevant funding agency or program to determine how changes in rural definitions may affect funding opportunities.

  • Yes that restates the issue I asked about — I haven’t found any cases yet where there are funding implications. The consensus seems to be that this just brings Census Bureau definitions a little closer to other federal agencies which have a much broader definition of rural.  Even the UA issue I mentioned is meaningless because it refers to the old UA definition of 50,000 and now 5,000 is the floor. (That’s because they erased the distinction between Urban Area and Urban Cluster). Todd Graham weighed in on this on Twitter and others pointed out RUCA codes used for health funding in which this range of areas that lost urban status  (population 2,500-4,999) were already well within rural guidelines and so were areas up to 50,000 population (codes 4-10 are considered rural)


  • Another example of what Hassan has stated is transportation funding. to be eligible for certain funding programs, the USDOT requires roads be designated in either rural or urban. the Rural Surface Transportation Grant program is one example: https://www.transportation.gov/grants/rural-areas-defined as is the Federal Transit Administration's 5311 program: www.transit.dot.gov/rural-formula-grants-5311

  • Good to know about this, thanks. Once again this definition of rural is less than 50,000 population so no effect on the category we’re addressing, 2,500-4,999 population 

    “The Formula Grants for Rural Areas program provides capital, planning, and operating assistance to states to support public transportation in rural areas with populations of less than 50,000”

  • oh and JamiRae i see now that your first link mentions the presence of a UA as a criteria, I think this is a source of confusion because the new changes do away with the distinction between Urban Area and Urban Cluster, so at the time these criteria were written an "Urban Area" was at least 50,000 population.

  • True - the definitions have changed so the link I provided is probably not yet updated. My point was just to show that there are grants and federal funding opportunities that are tied to the urban/rural definitions.

    Additionally USDOT/FHWA has a process that allows regions to "smooth" their Census designated urban boundaries which has not yet happened for the new definitions. Since the urban boundaries are designated based on population/housing, this provides a way to include transportation infrastructure that makes more sense to be included in an urban area (such as a high traffic corridor going to a business or employment center just outside an urban area. The revised boundaries can then be used for Federal transportation funding - there's a lot of criteria that goes into it. I'm generalizing here. 

    Looks like they have some updated guidance on the website if you are curious to learn more: www.fhwa.dot.gov/.../page07.cfm

  • I haven’t found any funding yet that’s tied to this Census Bureau definition. The pattern seems to be that funding agencies have a much broader definition of “rural” and the bureau is taking baby steps toward consensus. Would love to hear about exceptions though! 

  • I haven’t found any funding yet that’s tied to this Census Bureau definition. The pattern seems to be that funding agencies have a much broader definition of “rural” and the bureau is taking baby steps toward consensus. Would love to hear about exceptions though! 

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