Economic Dynamism Across the Rural-Urban Divide: A County-level Spatial Analysis

April 2021

As the United States recovered from the Great Recession, nonmetropolitan counties have failed to recover as the national economy continues to grow. Simultaneously, the quality of life in these counties deteriorated as economic opportunities atrophied. This study aims to understand how rurality impacts county-level declines in economic growth. Specifically, it examines how the percentage of a population occupying nonmetropolitan space and a county’s proximity to metropolitan areas impact absolute mobility, growth elasticity of poverty, and growth semi-elasticity of poverty. The results show that the percentage of a county that occupies a rural area is the most reliable geographic determinant of the economic strength of a county—although proximity to a metropolitan county also plays a significant role in the economy. Based on these conclusions, policymakers should tailor economic development plans to increase the productive capacity of these nonmetropolitan counties.