Poor rural counties have a higher rate of Covid-19 infection than the rest of rural and urban America, according to the latest “Rural America at a Glance,” the annual snapshot of rural conditions produced by the USDA Economic Research Service.

Rural counties with persistent poverty have cumulative infection rates 20 to 30% higher than other types of U.S. counties, the report says. Persistent-poverty counties are ones where at least 20% of the population has lived below the poverty line for the past 40 years.

This year’s annual report from the Economic Research Service is more than a glance, at least compared to reports published in previous years. At 16 pages, the 2021 “Glance” is over two times longer than previous years’ documents, but there are also more photographs than in previous editions. In a webinar about the report last week, our question about the length of the document was not selected for a response.

Besides length, the other difference in this year’s report is its emphasis on persistent-poverty counties. The report broke out the performance of both rural and urban poor counties in nearly all of its 11 tables and graphs.

In rural America, there are 301 persistently poor counties, about 15% of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties. These poor rural counties contain a population of 5.7 million (about 12% of the 46 million people who live in rural counties). This population is more diverse than the rest of rural America. About half the population in persistent-poverty counties is white, while in non-poor rural counties, about three quarters of the population is white.

Urban America has 52 persistently poor counties (4% of the nation’s 1,165 metropolitan counties) containing 11.7 million residents (about 4% of the 285 million people who live in urban counties).

In some areas, poor and non-poor rural counties did not perform that differently. They had nearly identical vaccination rates as of the third week of October (41.7% vs. 42.2% of all eligible adults). Metro poor and non-poor counties were virtually equivalent, as well (53.0% vs 53.5%).

Poor and non-poor rural counties also had similar losses in employment from January 2020 to January 21 (about 3%).

But the unemployment rate in persistent-poverty rural counties was 20% higher than other rural counties, and second only to poor metropolitan counties, where the unemployment rate was 9.0%.

Poor rural counties were also less likely to have internet access at home and less likely to live in a county where good internet connections were available.

Poor rural counties collectively lost population from 2010 to 2020, while non-poor rural counties gained slightly. Persistent poverty rural counties lost 345,000 residents over the decade, while rural counties that were not persistently poor gained 58,000, resulting in the net loss of 288,000 residents (or 0.6%) over the decade.

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