US Census Bureau recalculates ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ areas

Nearly 1,000 cities, towns and villages in the United States lost their metropolitan area status on Thursday when the U.S. Census Bureau released a new list of places that are considered metropolitan based on modification criteria.

About 3.5 million residents living in small cities, hamlets, towns and villages have lost their urban identity and have been classified as rural. The new criteria raised the population threshold from 2,500 to 5,000, and housing units were added to the definition.

This change is important because rural and urban areas are often eligible for different types of federal funding for transportation, housing, health care, education, and agriculture. The federal government does not have a standard definition of urban or rural, but the Census Bureau’s definition often provides a baseline.

“The whole urban and rural problem has to do with money,” said Mary Craigle, head of Montana’s Office of Research and Information Services. “Eligible places are municipalities that are eligible for shipping dollars that rural areas don’t have, and then rural areas that are eligible for dollars that urban areas don’t have.”

This year’s Census Bureau made biggest modification for decades to come the definition of an urban area. The Bureau adjusts the definition every decade after a census to address any changes or needs of policymakers and researchers. The office said it was done for statistical purposes and that it did not control how government agencies use definitions to distribute funding.

There are 2,646 municipalities in the continental United States, Puerto Rico, and the islands of the United States in the new list Thursday release.

“This change in definition is a big deal, and a significant change from the age-old procedures of the Census Bureau,” said Kenneth Johnson, a senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire. number. “It has important implications for both policy and researchers.”

According to the old criteria, an urbanized area must have at least 50,000 inhabitants. An urban cluster is defined as having at least 2,500 people, a threshold that dates back to 1910. By this definition, 81% of the US area was urban and 19% rural over the past decade.

Under the new definition, introduced after the 2020 census, the minimum population required for an area to be considered urban has doubled to 5,000. Initially, the Census Bureau proposed raising the threshold to 10,000 people but withdrew due to opposition. The new urban area criterion slightly changes the urban-rural ratio, 79.6% and 20.4% respectively.

In 1910, a town of 2,500 residents had more goods and services than a town of today’s size, “and these new definitions acknowledge it,” said Michael Cline, the state demographer. North Carolina said.

With the new criteria, the distinction between urbanized area and urban cluster has been eliminated since the Census Bureau determined that there is little difference in economic activities between communities. larger and smaller than 50,000 residents.

For the first time, the Census Bureau added housing units to the definition of a metropolitan area. A place can be considered urban if there are at least 2,000 housing units, based on the calculation that the average household has 2.5 people.

Among those who benefit from the use of housing rather than residents are resort towns in ski spots or beaches, or other places with many holiday homes, as they may qualify as urban areas. based on housing volume rather than full-time residents.

“There are many seasonal communities in North Carolina, and this change in the definition of housing units can be helpful in acknowledging that these areas are built with roads, houses, and at least one part of the year is where thousands of people are hosted,” says Cline.

Housing, rather than population, will also be used to measure density at the census block level, which typically has several hundred people and is the building block of a metropolitan area. The Census Bureau says using housing units instead of populations will allow it to update fast-growing areas between censuses once every decade.

But there’s another reason to switch to housing units instead of populations: Census Bureau Controversial new tool to protect the privacy of participants in surveys and headcount. This method adds intentional errors to the data to mask the identity of any particular participant, and this is most noticeable in the smallest geographic areas, such as the census block.

“The block-level data is not really reliable, and this gives the opportunity for the density threshold they chose to be on par with the population,” said Eric Guthrie, senior demographer at the Minnesota Center for Demographics.

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