Rural Research Notes present summary findings from HAC and other research and analyses on social, economic, and housing characteristics of rural Americans.

Home Mortgage Demand Declined in Rural America Too

Signs and Trends from a USDA Housing Finance Product

There have been numerous business and media reports on the slowdown in homebuying and mortgage activity in recent months. This market response is largely related to recent interest rate increases for 30-year fixed mortgages spurred by the Federal Reserve raising its benchmark rates. According to some estimates, the rate of mortgage applications nationally fell by half in 2022. Are mortgage markets behaving similarly in rural America too? Data from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) on its Guaranteed Home Loan product signals that rural homebuyers hit the brakes in 2022 as well. In the last fiscal year, USDA loan guarantees plummeted by more than 40 percent from their 2021 level and dropped well below the 100,000-loan mark to guarantee 72,000 loans.

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Rural COVID Cases are Starting to Decline, but the Delta Variant Hit Rural Communities Particularly Hard

The Housing Assistance Council presents updated data on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on rural communities.

As of September 30, there have been more than 6.5 million reported cases of COVID-19 and approximately 114,163 associated deaths in communities outside metropolitan areas. During September, communities outside of metropolitan areas reported more than 870,000 new cases – a 24 percent increase over the month of August. Since the onset of the Delta variant this summer, death rates have been substantially higher in rural places than in metro areas.

Rural America Now Has More Than 5 Million Reported Cases and Over 100,000 Deaths from Covid-19

Rural America Now Has More Than 5 Million Reported Cases and Over 100,000 Deaths from Covid-19

COVID-19 in Rural America – September 1, 2021

As of August 31, there have been more than 5.6 million reported cases of COVID-19, and approximately 101,741 associated deaths in communities outside metropolitan areas. Between August 1 and August 31, communities outside of metropolitan areas reported nearly 700,000 new cases of COVID-19 – a 291 percent increase over the previous 30-day period. There were 5,122 reported deaths associated with COVID-19 in rural communities in August, which represented a 254 percent increase in deaths from July 2021. Communities outside of metropolitan areas accounted for over 19 percent of all COVID deaths and 16 percent of new cases in August. The dramatic increase in rural cases and deaths mimics national trends related to the ascendancy of the more contagious delta variant.

Population Growth in Rural America was Small – and Uneven – Between 2010 and 2020

A Census in Rural America 2020 Update

Using Census 2010 and 2020 data, combined with methodology from the Housing Assistance Council’s Rural and Small-Town definition of location, HAC estimates that the rural population only increased by approximately 164,000 residents over the last decade. This population growth accounted for a .3 percent increase in the rural and small-town population. Overall, HAC estimates that approximately 60,551,165 people live in rural communities using the latest Census data.

Addressing Food Insecurity: Research Note Cover

Addressing Food Insecurity: Research Note

Addressing Food InsecurityFood insecurity negatively affects childhood development and rural areas have higher rates of food insecurity. The Summer Meals program only serves 1 in 7 eligible students, but an increasing number of USDA multi-family properties serve as meal sites for this program. Stronger and continued collaboration between housing facilities and child nutrition programs will reduce rural childhood hunger during the summer months.

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Disconnect in Rural America - Rural Research Brief

Disconnect in Rural America

Disconnect in Rural America - Rural Research NoteDespite mass adoption, greater functionality, and more access points, the internet remains out of reach for many Americans, especially those in rural communities. One of the primary reasons for this disconnect is geography, where long distances between homes raise the cost of installing the infrastructure for broadband in rural areas, leaving rural homes with less access to fast, reliable internet.

As broadband becomes less a luxury and more a daily necessity, this technology gap can leave segments of the rural population technologically behind, causing slow economic growth, and limited access to advancements in areas, such as telemedicine.

More Than One-Quarter of Rural Homes Do Not Have Internet Subscriptions

Overall, 27 percent of all rural households lack any type of broadband subscription, compared to 17.1 percent of metropolitan households. This amounts to more than 4.7 million rural households without a broadband internet subscription – cellular data plan, cable/DSL/fiber optic, or satellite.

In addition, 129,963 rural households with an internet subscription are still using dial-up. This is 1 percent of all rural households with internet subscriptions, while only .04 percent of subscribers in metro areas have dial-up subscriptions.

The digital gap applies to most types of internet access, as measured by subscription data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Broadband subscription rates, at least in part, reflect access to the internet based on existing infrastructure and affordability. For example, rural households are less likely to have a cellular data plan than metropolitan area households, 57 percent to 70 percent. The one exception to this gap is satellite-based service. Nine percent of rural Disparities in Rural Broadband Subscriptions Across Income Levelshouseholds, compared to 6 percent of metropolitan area households use satellite internet services. Greater isolation and more sparse populations in rural areas likely explain the more common use of satellite technology, where cable or fiber optic services are not available.

The broadband gap between rural and metropolitan area households exists at all income levels. For households with incomes less than $20,000 a year, rural broadband subscriptions are 10 percentage points lower than in metropolitan areas. For households with incomes from $20,000 to $75,000 the gap persists albeit slightly smaller at 7 percentage points. Even at higher income levels – $75,000 and above – rural households have lower broadband subscription rates, 91 percent to 95 percent.

The same disparity in connectivity exists at all age ranges as well. Rural residents under 18 years old are less likely to have a broadband subscription compared to their metropolitan counterparts, 84 percent to 89 percent. The trend follows for residents between 18 and 64 years old, 81 percent to 88 percent, and for those 65 years and older, 62 percent to 73 percent.

So, while income and age may exacerbate the disparity in broadband subscriptions, subscription rates in rural areas continue to trail metropolitan areas across the board.

Rural Homes Lack Device Diversity

Rural households also have fewer computing devices than their metropolitan area counterparts. About 83 percent of rural households have at least one computing devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.), while 90 percent of metropolitan area households do. Furthermore, less than 67 percent of rural households have at least two devices, compared to almost 75 percent of metropolitan households.

Rural households with access to some type of computing device are more often limited, with access to either a smartphone or a desktop computer, rather than having the capability and benefits of both forms of technology. While seemingly a small issue, fewer devices directly impacts rural households’ ability to take advantage of ever increasing technologies. This means that a rural home buyer with only a smartphone may not be able to obtain detailed information on mortgage products, and a veteran without a smartphone cannot get on the road directions to a VA healthcare facility for an appointment.

What the Disconnect Means

While it may not be surprising that rural households have less broadband access and fewer devices, it can be consequential. Less dense areas where there are large physical gaps in infrastructure is where the internet can be the best utilized. Households without broadband subscriptions are unable to access services effectively, such as online banking and shopping, telemedicine, and more reliable communication.

Investing in broadband infrastructure in rural areas can help diminish the disparities in access between rural and metropolitan households. While initial infrastructure investments may not be deemed profitable by traditional providers currently, small and local municipalities may need to consider creative methods of bringing broadband to their rural communities.

“Rural” in this Note refers to population and territory outside of a Metropolitan Area, as designated by the Office of Management and Budget.
Rural Research Note Homelessness - Cover

Homeless Rate Increases Nationally: Rural Data Remains Unclear

Cover of Homeless Rate Increases Nationally: Rural Data Remains UnclearHUD’s 2017 point-in-time numbers show the homeless count increased by 0.7% nationally since 2016, which is the first increase since 2010. The overall number has actually decreased when excluding several large cities that have experienced extreme spikes in homeless populations. Homeless counts in rural communities continue to be hard to capture. The following research note highlights the impact of these highly populated areas on the overall homeless count and points out the difficulty in counting the rural homeless population.

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Mortgage Interest Deduction Research Note

Proposed Changes to the Mortgage Interest Deduction, and What They Could Mean for Rural America

Cover of Rural Research Note Proposed Changes to The Mortgage Interest Deduction, And What They Could Mean for Rural AmericaRecent legislative proposals to lower U.S. tax rates have included, among other elements, modifications to the mortgage interest deduction. The proposed limiting of the mortgage interest deduction to the first $500,000 of a home loan, just half of the current $1 million limit, has drawn the public’s attention. Questions on the potential cost to taxpayers associated with the more stringent deduction limits have naturally followed. The following discussion looks at the role of the mortgage interest deduction in rural areas.

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Income Tax Returns Claiming Mortgage Interest Deduction, 2015

Rural Mortgages Research Note

Rural mortgage lending increases but still lags suburban/urban growth

Rural Mortgage Activity Increases, but Certain Populations Continue to Struggle with Elevated Denials and High-Cost Lending

Analysis of Rural Home Mortgage DataThe Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council released its most recent figures on home lending and mortgage activity for the year 2016. Approximately 16.3 million loan records filed by 6,762 banks and lending institutions in the United States were recorded as required by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, commonly known by its acronym HMDA. Congress enacted HMDA in 1975 to document how, and to what extent, banks are lending in their communities. Of the loan applications reported through HMDA in 2016, approximately 2 million, or 15 percent, sought funding for homes in rural or small-town communities.

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Originations Per 1000 Owner-Occupied Units, HMDA 2016

Economic Expansion Eludes Rural America

Economic Expansion Eludes Rural America

rrn-poverty-estimates-2016 CoverWhile the nation is finally beginning to fully recover from the Great Recession that officially ended in 2009, rural America continues to lag behind economically. Released today, the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015, reveals that both metropolitan areas and the nation as a whole experienced statistically significant decreases in poverty, and increases in median household income, reflecting overall economic improvement. Rural areas, on the other hand, stand out from an otherwise positive report with lower levels of economic gain.