Rural America is lagging behind the nation's urban areas in household income and education, and improvements in both are necessary if rural communities are to remain viable places to live. Median household income in rural America is less than 80 percent of what it is in urban America. Rural America has a huge education deficit, which is a problem in a knowledge-based, innovation-type economy. About 33 percent of urban residents over the age of 25 have a college degree. That is nearly twice the percentage found among rural residents.
There are many reasons why an income gap exists between rural and urban residents. Part of it is the difference in the economic structure. The employment opportunities in rural areas are, in general, not as robust as they are in urban areas. Higher-income jobs are more likely to be in the urban areas.
The lower educational attainment level of people in rural areas goes hand in hand with the economic factor. Education is highly tied to earnings potential.
Although Indiana has experienced urban growth in recent years, 38 percent of the state's 6.4 million residents live in unincorporated rural areas. Another 12 percent live in incorporated towns with populations of less than 10,000. A very small number of rural Americans are farmers. Not a single county in Indiana is categorized as "farm dependent" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of the earning and income of rural Hoosiers come from nonfarm sources, including employment in manufacturing and other industries and service sectors.
Purdue Extension is one of many contributors to RISE 2020, a statewide vision for rural Indiana. RISE 2020 also provides a framework for rural stakeholders to have important community conversations and to develop strategies appropriate to local or regional goals. Collectively, these efforts will help achieve a prosperous and vibrant rural Indiana.
For more information on RISE 2020, see www.ruralindiana.org.
Indiana HomeTown Competitiveness
Nine Indiana communities are participating in a pilot program that aligns with RISE 2020 and is a model for sustainable rural and economic development. Indiana HomeTown Competitiveness (HTC) focuses on strengthening four critical "pillars"—capturing generational wealth transfer, engaging youth, mobilizing local leadership and energizing entrepreneurship.
Purdue Extension and the Purdue University Center for Regional Development are among the six partners supporting HTC. The others are USDA Rural Development, Ball State University, Indiana Rural Development Council, Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, and the Indiana Grantmakers Alliance.
Pilot communities include the towns of Alexandria, Ferdinand and Oxford, and Decatur, Greene, Henry, Lawrence, Washington and White counties. This spring, the community teams are focusing on Phase I, identifying community assets. The second and third phases include strategic development and implementation and sustaining success.