Who lives in rural America? How data shapes (and misshapes) conceptions of diversity in rural America

CORI Blog: “Racial and ethnic diversity is one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of rural America.

National media depictions of white farmers and ranchers in the West and Midwest, white coal miners in Appalachia, or the “white working class” living in rural communities reinforce the misconception that rural areas are homogeneously white. It is a misconception that ignores that 86 of the 100 most marginalized counties in the country are rural, 60 of which are located in Tribal lands or Southern regions with large Black populations. It is a misconception that renders invisible the 14 million Black, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, Native, and multiracial people who live in rural America (2020 census-nonmetro plus).

It is a misconception that holds significant consequences.

Misunderstandings of diversity in rural America can inhibit efforts to support programming and policies designed to increase the ability of rural communities to thrive. For rural communities to thrive, national, state, and local leaders need to take efforts to systematically address racial and ethnic inequities that limit the freedomsafety, and opportunity of rural people of color.

There is an imperative to better understand who lives in rural America today. In just the past few years, billions of public and private dollars have been committed to building a more equitable economy. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the CHIPS Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) have committed hundreds of billions of dollars that will be invested by federal agencies and state and local governments in healthcare, housing, energy, and economic development.

As part of these efforts, the Biden administration has ordered federal agencies to prioritize advancing racial equity in the design of these programs and the distribution of resources. Similarly, companies and philanthropy have made racial equity commitments of more than $200 billion. With these public and private commitments, hundreds of billions of dollars will be invested in the coming years with a specific focus on addressing racial equity.

Yet, if these historic investments are not informed by an accurate understanding of rural demographics and how these communities have evolved over time in response to government policies and settler-influenced power shifts, then we risk excluding rural communities and people of color from the critical resources that are needed to strengthen communities and economies that serve everyone.

In Part I of the second story in our Rural Aperture Project, we seek to explain how and why such flawed conceptions of rural America exist…(More)”.