Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Monday, May 08, 2006

Keeping the Family Together in Rural Communities

Keeping the Family Together in Rural Communities

by Michael L. Holton,

In examining children and poverty in rural communities, it is clear that we must get at the root of problems despite the barriers

The chances that rural children will live in poverty are increasing. How do we explain this? In examining the question, we found several startling statistics that simply cannot be ignored.

Drop in agriculturally-dependent counties.

In 1950, when rural counties were defined by the prevalent income-generating activity, 2,000 counties were considered agricultural. By 1990 this figure had dropped to 556 counties. By the 2000 census, 420 counties across the United States were considered agricultural.

What a tremendous drop. Not only does it reflect the agricultural consolidation that has taken place, it also shows the wide diversity of income-generating activities that account for what can be considered rural throughout the country.

Decline of family structure.

One major thread weaving its way through all of America, rural and urban, is the decline of family structure. While urban and rural areas experience similar divorce rates, it is clear that poverty rates for children are higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

Single female parent households in rural areas account for up to 48 percent of children considered in poverty. This compares with 34 percent in urban areas. While both figures are startling and unsettling, the difference is significant.

Teenage pregnancy rates.

Another startling statistic that wraps all of child poverty together concerns unwed mothers. Unwed teenage mothers with less than a high school education have a 78 percent poverty rate, while mothers who are married, over 20, with at least a high school education experience only a 6 percent poverty rate.

According to USDA statistics on child poverty, unwed mothers in rural areas tend to have children earlier than those in urban areas. This is also significant in terms of education. Those in urban areas may attend more school and possibly attain a high school education as compared to those in rural areas.

In discussing the decline of family structure, it is not our intent to criticize but rather to point out barriers that have clearly surfaced when it comes to child poverty in rural areas. If we address the root of the problems surrounding child poverty, we may also soften the effect that comes along with the breakdown of the nuclear family.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Michael, while i will not argue with your statistics, I will say that many rural communities and many rural families do a better job of helping their own sisters and daughters through the circumstances that you mention - perhaps rural communities, or some of them (even if they are more judgemental - my opinion) retain more of a sense of community?

  • At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I understand what you are saying and I agree but even with all of the community support that seems evident, there are services that we cannot provide as a community family. These are the services that have been identified. I will never argue that I would never trade to set of values I have from the small community but I would rather have the best of both worlds.


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