Households in rural areas tend to experience food insecurity at higher rates compared to all households, including those located in more urban and populous metropolitan areas. The irony is that many of these rural food-insecure households are located in the very farm communities whose productivity feeds the world and provides low-cost wholesome food for American consumers.

Challenges facing rural areas differ from metro/urban areas in several significant ways[i]:

  • Employment is more concentrated in low-wage industries;
  • Unemployment and underemployment are greater;
  • Education levels are lower;
  • Work-support services, such as flexible and affordable child care and public transportation, are less available;
  • Access to communication and transportation networks, as well as organizational access to activities that foster administration, research and development, is limited.[ii]

Rural Hunger Facts

  • More than 15 percent of rural households (2.8 million) are food insecure. The prevalence of food insecurity across households located outside metropolitan areas (15.4%) is higher than those in urban cities (14.1%) as well as surrounding suburbs and exurbs (10.4%).[iii]
  • According to Feeding America’s most recent Map the Meal Gap study, the average food insecurity rate among rural counties (15%) is higher than the average rate among counties in metropolitan areas (14%).
  • Seventy-six percent of counties with food-insecurity rates in the top 10 percent are located in rural areas. Rural areas also account for 86 percent of counties with the highest rates of child food insecurity. For sake of comparison, 63 percent of all counties are rural. In contrast, 24 percent of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are metropolitan, as are 14 percent of counties with the highest rates of child food insecurity. Thirty-seven percent of all counties are metropolitan.[iv]

Rural Poverty Facts

  • 7.4 million Americans (16.7%) living in rural areas live below the federal poverty line.[v]
  • Compared to all regions, the South continues to have the highest poverty rate among people in families living in rural areas (25%) [vi].
  • 47 percent of people in families with a single female head of household living in rural areas were poor in 2015, as compared to 35 percent in the suburbs.[vii]

[i] USDA. Economic Research Service. Leslie A. Whitener, R. Gibbs, and L. Kusmin. Rural Welfare Reform: Lessons Learned. Amber Waves. June 2003.

[ii] USDA. Economic Research Service. Robert Gibbs, L. Kusmin. Low-Skill Employment and the Changing Economy of Rural America. ERR-10. October 2005.

[iii] Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2016). Household Food Security in the United States in 2015. Table 2. USDA ERS.

For the purposes of this summary, we have relabeled the designation “Outside metropolitan area” included in the USDA ERS and Census Bureau reports as “rural.” It should be noted that “outside metropolitan area” includes micropolitan statistical areas as well as territory outside of both metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas.

[iv] Gundersen, C., A. Dewey, A. Crumbaugh, M. Kato & E. Engelhard. Map the Meal Gap 2017: A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecurity and County Food Cost in the United States in 2015. Feeding America, 2017.

[v] Proctor, B.D., Semega, J.L., & Kollar, M.A. (2016). Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015. U.S. Census Bureau.

[vi] U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Survey. 2015 Annual Social and Economic Supplement. POV43: Region, Divison and Type of Residence—Poverty Status for People in Families With Related Children Under 18 by Family Structure: 2015. Below 100% of Poverty—All Races.

[vii] Ibid.


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