Prior to the current coronavirus recession, most U.S. economic metrics pointed to a slow but steady nationwide recovery amid an 11-year post-Great Recession run of economic growth. But prosperity was not spread equally across the breadth of the nation. In addition to widening income and wealth gaps, new data show that rural communities did not reap widespread benefits compared to urban regions of the country. The reasons for this gap between urban and rural economic growth bear serious policy consideration as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the nation.

The rural economy relied heavily on the service industry as a form of sustainable employment. In 2016, data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey showed that 22 percent of people living in completely rural counties were employed by the educational, healthcare, and social assistance service sector. Another 7.3 percent worked in the arts, food, and accommodations service sector. Yet even though many rural workers depended on services over fracking, mining, and agriculture, the service industry output fell short for these communities during the post-Great Recession run of economic growth.

Then, there’s the healthcare sector. There are widespread regional and rural-urban divides in economic output in healthcare since the Great Recession. Rural counties in the West and Rocky Mountain states experienced growth in healthcare while rural counties in the South, Midwest, and Northeast registered more contraction in this industry since the previous recession.

It is imperative that policymakers consider rural communities when discussing economic policy initiatives. Through the use of data, such as the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’s Local Area GDP measure, academics and policymakers alike can track rural industry trends and create policies that promote a stable and resilient rural economy.

Read the full article about the rural-urban economic divide by Raksha Kopparam at Equitable Growth.