New Census data reveals rural America

Little noticed by most people except data-hounds, yesterday the Census Bureau released another slug of data. This time it was the American Community Survey (ACS) releasing the five-year data for 2011-2015. In their blogs about this, the Bureau chose to concentrate on rural America.


The Census has a fairly long explanation of what it defines as urban and rural, here, but basically after following a process of identifying what is urban, the rural is what is left over (about 97% of the land area of the USA).


Kentucky is a fairly rural state by national standards. Using the same categorization scheme as the Census map above, here is the map for KY:


What else can the ACS data tell us? I am interested in not so much unemployment, but the degree to which places are not in the labor force (NILF). The following map shows the percent of 16 year olds and older who are not in the labor force in 2015:


This shows better I think that when 50, 60 or even 70% of adults are not working in a community, even though they may not be on the unemployed listing (because they’re not looking for work) that leaves a fairly significant psychological impact.

For example, Martin County has the state’s highest proportion of adults not in the workforce (69.9%). It is 99% white, with a total population in 2010 of 12,929. The unemployment rate is at 10.3%, and its other characteristics, according to a now infamous article in the NYT make it one of the “hardest” places to live in the US:


A similar map from the NYT a few years ago shows that Martin County gets 42.6% of its county income via government benefits:


Trump beat Clinton 88.6 – 9.2% (3,503 – 363) in Martin County, about a wide a margin as anywhere in the county. The state’s fifth Congressional District has a Cook partisan voting index (PVI) of R+25 (the most extreme is a district in Texas, R+32). In the Civil War it was Unionist, and even during the second half of the 19th century it was Democratic, but it has been reliably Republican since. This is what people are referring to when they say that poor white working class “vote against their own interests.”

Interestingly, next door in Pike County, 4,848 people voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and 2,335 for Clinton (source). That’s 7,183 Democratic voters. However, Trump took it 80.1 – 17.4% or 19,740 – 4,277 in the election. What happened to the nearly 3,000 Democratic primary voters (40% of the total)? Did Sanders supporters stay home, switch to Trump, or did Democratic supporters per se stay home? Either way, you can’t have nearly 40% of your primary voters drop out of the national election. In fact, you’re supposed to increase your totals for the actual election if you have a good GOTV ground game!

This supports the “depressed turnout” line of thinking in explaining Clinton’s loss. However, the relative weight we place on this, along with the “left behind” explanation, the racism explanation and others, will no doubt be argued over for a while yet.


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