#319. USDA Releases New Online Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America

Posted on | The Agurban

Finding data on non-metro counties in the United States just became a little easier. We learned a lot about data gathering when we were researching for Boomtown USA. Non-metro, or agurban, information was the last to be compiled. Now, with this new tool from the USDA, much of that data can be found in one place.

USDA Releases New Online 
Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 2011- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the debut of an online mapping tool that captures a broad range of demographic, economic, and agricultural data on rural areas across the United States. The Atlas of Rural and Small-town America, developed by USDA’s Economic Research Service, provides county-level mapping of over 60 statistical indicators depicting conditions and trends across different types of nonmetro regions.

“The new Atlas will complement USDA’s efforts in promoting rural development and well-being by helping policy makers pinpoint the needs of particular regions, recognize their diversity, and build on their assets,” said Vilsack. “The Atlas is part of a broad USDA initiative to make relevant data easily accessible to the public, including researchers, journalists, public officials, and other professionals.”

Nearly 50 million people — 17 percent of the U.S. population — live in nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) America, covering approximately 2,000 counties. Economic and social challenges facing rural areas and small towns differ greatly from those affecting larger U.S. cities, and vary substantially from one nonmetro county to the next.

The Atlas allows users to geographically compare selected states or regions using data on population, age structure, race and ethnicity, income, employment, agricultural well-being, and other measures. Regional planners in the rural Southwest, for example, could compare population trends in their area with counties or states in the Midwest. Maps can be filtered to show only counties of a certain type, such as those with high levels of manufacturing or with persistent poverty. For example, this option could be used to show high unemployment in manufacturing-dependent counties.

This web-based product assembles the latest county-level statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, USDA, and other Federal sources. Of particular note, the Atlas incorporates data from the first full set of county-level data in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). Data from the various agencies are combined in four broad categories that users can select:

  • People-county demographic profiles, including age, race/ethnicity, education, family composition, population change, migration, and immigration.
  • Jobs-conditions and trends affecting the labor force, such as employment change, unemployment, industry, and occupational structure.
  • Agriculture-indicators of farm structure and the well-being of farm households, including farm size, income, sales, and tenure.
  • County typologies-ERS county classifications based on the rural-urban continuum, economic structure, and other key locational features, such as, landscape amenities, occupation types, persistent poverty, or population loss status.
Users can click on a county and view a pop-up box showing data on all the indicators in each of these four categories. In addition, users can view an indicator (e.g., employment data) for the entire country, or can zoom into specific regions, states, or sub-state areas, and pan across the U.S. at different scales on the map. Maps can be downloaded for use in documents and presentations, and data are accessible via downloadable spreadsheets.

The Rural Atlas is visually and functionally similar to another product developed by the Economic Research Service – the Food Environment Atlas – which maps U.S. counties by factors that reflect a communities’ access to affordable, healthy food. That web-based tool has attracted considerable attention from the media and among professionals concerned with diet and public health.

The Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America is available online at