How Well Have Rural and Small Metropolitan Labor Markets Absorbed Welfare Recipients?. Characteristics of workforce


On average, adult residents in rural areas have lower levels of educational attainment than more urban residents. According to the Census Bureaus Current Population Survey (CPS), 20 percent of rural residents 18 years and older did not have a high school diploma compared with 17 percent in metropolitan counties (see Exhibit 2.1). A significantly smaller percentage of rural residents had higher levels of education. Interestingly, this was not true when we limited the sample to welfare recipients in nonmetropolitan and metropolitan areas. Welfare recipients living in rural areas were slightly more likely to have obtained a high school diploma than welfare recipients living in large metropolitan areas. Thus, there is a smaller gap in education levels between welfare recipients and non-welfare recipients in rural areas than in urban areas, implying there might be more competition for low-skill jobs.


Exhibit 2.1
Education Level of Adults and Adult Welfare Recipients by Size of Geographic Area
Education Level Nonmetropolitan/ Not Identified (%) MSA: 100,000  250,000 (%) MSA: 250,000+ (%)
Total Population
No high school degree diploma 20.4 16.7 16.6
High school degree 38.9 32.7 31.3

Above high school

40.6 50.6 52.2


100.0 100.0 100.0
Welfare Recipients

No high school degree diploma

33.9 32.6 40.0

High school degree

41.9 44.3 38.0

Above high school

24.3 23.1 22.0


100.0 100.0 100.0

Source: Lewin calculations using the 1999 CPS March Supplement.


In addition, a research synthesis on the rural welfare population found the following:(27)

  • Rural welfare recipients were slightly more likely to be married and more likely to work than central city counterparts.
  • Spells on public assistance were shorter in rural areas than in urban areas.
  • In rural areas, the dollar amount of grants received by welfare families was significantly less than the dollar amount received by urban families. States with large rural populations tended to offer lower benefit grants.