What is WI-ORH’s definition of rural?
- Rural classification schemes vary by scale and use different operational measures of urban adjacency, population size, and population density.
- Conditions that shaped the rural landscape are disappearing in some places, enduring in others.
- As the American population becomes more urban, rural is an increasingly multi-dimensional concept.
- Delivering effective rural programs means targeting constituencies more thoughtfully.
What is rural and why is it important?
This question is asked frequently by scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers alike. Each group has different motives for asking it, and adopts different approaches to answer it. Most people agree that being removed from population centers can result in unique disadvantages. As evidence continues to suggest, rural places in the United States demonstrate pronounced needs in the areas of health, education, and economic security. It remains important to be conscious of urban/rural distinctions so that we can continue to address these disparities by effectively targeting social programs and services. It is for this reason that we rely on classification systems to identify the country’s rural places, even as that task becomes increasingly complex.
Wisconsin is both an urban and a rural state. In terms of its people, less than a third live in census designated rural areas. Most are spread into 13 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA), which means Wisconsin ranks in the top 10 states for its number of urban places. But at the same time, the state has vast areas of low population density that are home to more than one million people. The Office of Rural Health uses rural classifications to identify the state’s people, places, and facilities that experience unique healthcare needs by virtue of their rural location. Though our mission is straightforward, identifying our target populations can be very complex. Some of the most important dimensions of rural can be measured and mapped, while others cannot.