Definitions and Data Sources
- Geographic Definitions
- Demographic Data Sources, People with Disability and US Population
- Centers for Independent Living
Most people have an idea of what makes an area rural, but the perception of ruralness may not always match the specific definitions used by agencies responsible for counting, analyzing, or distributing community resources.
Resource distribution and access to services are affected by how people and counties are counted and classified. "Non-metropolitan" counties are frequently treated as being synonymous with "rural"; and if a county is designated as "metropolitan", all territory or people within it are also presumed to be metropolitan. In reality however, many rural areas are located within metropolitan counties. Data from Census 2000 showed that for the first time over half of all rural Americans live in counties designated as metropolitan. (See Update on the Demography of Rural Disability, Part Two: Non-Metropolitan and Metropolitan for more information. http://rtc.ruralinstitute.umt.edu/RuDis/NonMetro.htm )
However "rural" and "urban" areas are not geographically tied to counties and may cross county or state lines. These areas are measured by population density. While not accounting for economic diversity, this approach more accurately reflects the aerial view of a settled area's density.
To understand rural America in this context, it is important to define four key U.S. Census terms: urban, urbanized area, urban cluster, and rural areas.
Urban: Territory, population and housing units located within urbanized areas and urban clusters.
Urbanized area: A densely-settled area with a Census population of at least 50,000. A typical urbanized area has more than 500 people per square mile and consists of all or part of one or more incorporated places, such as towns.
Urban cluster: A densely settled area with a census population of 2,500 to 49,999.
Rural areas: Territory, population, and housing units located outside of urbanized areas or urban clusters. Rural areas have fewer than 2,500 people or areas where people live in open country.
The map http://rtc.ruralinstitute.umt.edu/geography/counties.htm#5 shows the locations of U.S. urbanized areas (blue) and urban clusters (green). Rural areas are shown in gray and represent 97 percent of U.S. land mass. Urbanized areas and urban clusters comprise the remaining three percent.
Our Rural Disability Demographics Fact Sheets:
include tables showing 9,654,261 non-metropolitan people with disabilities, but 10,852,330 rural people with disabilities. This difference doesn’t seem very large, until you realize they are not the same 10-11 million people. Focusing rural attention only on non-metropolitan counties overlooks the almost half of rural Americans with disabilities who live in metropolitan counties. However the census "rural" category does not include the 5 million people with disabilities in urban clusters – towns with 2,500 - 49,999 people, unless you use the transportation nonurbanized definition.
Rural(Census Definition): Rural is the residual territory, population, and housing units located outside of urbanized areas or urban clusters. Rural areas have fewer than 2,500 people or areas where people live in open country.
Nonurbanized (Transportation Definition): Transportation also uses the 2000 Census categories, but has its own way of grouping them. Because transportation programs usually do not include urban clusters (towns of 2,500 - 49,999) in their urban measurement, "nonurbanized" effectively becomes "rural plus urban clusters." Nonurbanized areas are sometimes referred to as "rural and small urban". But sometimes "rural" is used to mean all of the nonurbanized area– what is left over when urbanized areas are taken out of the total. And to add to the confusion, some people informally talk about areas with 50,000 - 200,000 people as small urban, when they are actually "small urbanized". For more information, see:
- U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration’s Frequently Asked Questions Applying 2000 Census Data to Urbanized and Urban Areas January 5, 2006 Version
Transportation is often a critical issue to rural people with disabilities. We include a category "nonurbanized (transportation definition)" to provide another way to look at rural population density and demographics. Note that boundaries and therefore population numbers may be different than the ones shown in our tables, because Federal transportation legislation (23 USC 101(a)(36) (37) and 49 USC 5302(a)(16) (17)) allows responsible state and local officials in cooperation with each other, and subject to approval by the Secretary of Transportation, to adjust the Census boundaries outward, as long as they encompass, at a minimum, the entire Census designated area. It is also important to note that the numbers in the nonurbanized category, are almost always larger than the numbers for rural or nonmetropolitan.
Metropolitan county: A central county with (1) one or more urbanized areas each having a population of 50,000 or more residents, plus (2) any outlying counties in which at least 25 percent of the working age population commute to the central county for work or in which 25 percent of the outlying county’s workers commute from the central county – the so-called "reverse" commuting pattern.
Non-metropolitan county: Classified as either a "non-metropolitan, micropolitan" or "non-metropolitan, non-core" county. Non-metropolitan, micropolitan counties have one or more urban clusters (towns) of 10,000 to 49,999 persons. As with metropolitan counties, a micropolitan area can have one or more counties, and outlying counties are affected by commuting patterns. Non-metropolitan, non-core counties contain no town (urban cluster) of at least 10,000 people. (Office of Management & Budget, Census 2000, http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Rurality/Newdefinitions/ ).
US County maps at http://rtc.ruralinstitute.umt.edu/geography/counties.htm show metropolitan and non metropolitan areas, as well as how they are related to urban and rural areas.
Population data for Rural/Urban areas is drawn from the U S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 of Population and Housing, Demographic Profile; Summary File 1, Table P2: Urban and Rural (Total Population).
Population data for Metropolitan-Non Metropolitan counties is derived
from the Census 2000 data sets, using the Office of Management and
Budget (OMB) county designations. Current definitions (as of December
2005) are based on July 1, 2003 and July 1, 2004 population estimates.
To download these data go to the following link: http://www.census.gov/population/www/estimates/metrodef.html The
metropolitan-nonmetropolitan geographical category in American Fact
Finder for 2000 Census data sets could not be used, as they do not
reflect significant changes in OMB classifications which were implemented
after the 2000 Census.
Disability data is drawn from the U S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 of Population and Housing, Demographic Profile; Summary File 3, Table P42: Sex by Age by Disability Status by Employment Status for the Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population Age 5+ Years.
Individuals were classified as having a disability if any of the following three conditions was true:
 They were five years old and over and reported a long-lasting sensory, physical, mental or self-care disability;
 They were 16 years old and over and reported difficulty going outside the home because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition lasting six months or more; or
 They were 16 to 64 years old and reported difficulty working at a job or business because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition lasting six months or more.
For more information: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/meta/long_101608.htm
U.S. Census Disability Home Page: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/disability/disability.html
If you are looking for rural, nonmetropolitan, or nonurbanized data about people with disabilities, the 2000 Census provides the most current data. If you are in a city or county with more than 65,000 people, you may be able to get more current data from the 2005 American Community Survey. The ACS is a nation wide survey being conducted as part of the 2010 Decennial Census Program. It is essentially the long form of the dicennial census, administered every year to approximately three million housing units. It collects population, social, economic and housing data, including data on people with disabilities. The ACS program was fully implemented in 2005 in every county of the United States and in Puerto Rico. In 2008, 3 year averages of ACS data will be available for geographic areas of 20,000- 65,000 people. Data on all geographic area is not expected before late 2009.
Finding both Rural and Disability data together for the same geographical area in Census 2000 data is not straight forward. Rural is residual, derived by subtracting Urban Disability data from Total Population Data for the Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population Age 5+ Years. American Fact Finder only provides these data for the nation, state, and/or congressional district. To find these data down to the county level, we used the Census 2000 Summary File 3, Census of Population and Housing on DVD, figuring in Census data for “county parts, because rural and urban areas are not geographically tied to counties and may cross county or state lines.
To find disability data for rural areas using the Transit Rural Definition, we separated the Urban Clusters from Urbanized Areas, which are grouped together in Census 2000 Urban Area data. We then subtracted the number of people with a disability living in Urbanized Areas from the number of civilian noninstitutionalized persons 5 years old and over in the nation, again using data on “county parts” to tie urban and rural data to county boundaries.
In all cases where disability numbers are used, percentages are calculated on the civilian noninstitutionalized population age 5 and older, and not on the total population. To get the number of civilian noninstitutionalized persons 5 years old and over, you must use the numbers in Census 2000 Summary File 3. You cannot simply subtract the number of the people under 5 years of age, in the military, and in institutions. In most counties, the number of civilian noninstitutionalized persons 5 years old and over is about 90% of the total population. If you compare the disability numbers to the total population, without using the adjusted figures provided by the Census, the percentages will be lower than they actually are.
Age category percentages for each county and state were calculated in several ways, to answer different questions:
To answer the question:
For each county or state, what percentage of the people with a disability are in this age category?
% of county or state people with disabilities=
county people or state with disabilities in age group
/ total county or state people with disabilities in the civilian noninstitutionalized population, age 5 and over.
To answer the question:
For each county or state, what percentage of each county's population are in this age category and has a disability?
% of county or state population=
county or state people with disabilities in age group
/ total county or state population in the civilian noninstitutionalized population, age 5 and over
To answer the question:
For each county or state, what percentage of the people in this age category have a disability?
% of county or state age cohort=
county or state people with disabilities in age group
/ total county or state age cohort (people in age group, e.g all people age 16-20) in the civilian noninstitutionalized population
Calculating the Institutionalized Population
RTC: Rural staff compiled the number of institutionalized people, from Summary File 1, Table PCT16. Group Quarters Population by Group Quarters Type, using the categories described below, based on the assumption that people in these categories were either chronically ill and/or have a disability:
PCTO16010 - Nursing Homes
PCTO16012 - Hospitals/wards and hospices for chronically ill
PCTO16017 - Mental (Psychiatric) Hospitals or wards
PCTO16018 - Schools, hospitals, or wards for the mentally retarded
PCTO16019 - Schools, hospitals, or wards for the physically handicapped
Numbers of noninstitutionalized people in group homes are not included in this calculation, because they are included in the Summary File 3 general disability category of civilian, noninstitutionalized people 5 years and over. People in hospitals or wards for drug/alcohol abuse were not included.
Employment Rate Data
Employment data was also calculated using data from U. S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 of Population and Housing, Demographic Profile, Summary File 3, Item P42. As with determining overall disability rate, only the civilian, noninstitutionalized population is represented. Employment status is available for individuals both with and without a disability, ages 21-64.
The employment rate percentage was determined by dividing the number of individuals employed by the total civilian, noninstitutionalized population, ages 21-64.
Census 2000, Employment Definitions
 The individual was classified as employed if they had done any work for pay, worked in their own business, on a farm, or worked more than 15 unpaid hours on a family farm or in a family business during the calendar week preceding Census response;
 The individual was also classified as employed if they were with a job but not at work. This meant they would typically meet employed status, but were not at work during the week before Census response. This could include temporary illness, weather, labor disputes, vacation, or other personal reasons.
 Individuals not included in the employed population are those who perform unpaid work in the home or for volunteer organizations, as well as those in the military.
For additional discussion of U.S. Census disability dataDisability Data from the American Community Survey: A Brief Examination of the Effects of a Question Redesign in 2003, released February 2005
Counting People with Disabilities: How Survey Methodology Influences
Estimates in Census 2000 and the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey, released
2003 ASA Presentation: released August 2004
For additional sources of disability statisticsThe Disability Statistics Center at the University of California, San Francisco and the Disability Statistics Research group at Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute are good resources for disability statistics, including links to other data sources.
The Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell University: emphasizes employment data and publishes annual disability status reports http://www.DisabilityStatistics.org to “provide policy makers, disability advocates, reporters, and the public with a summary of the most recent demographic and economic statistics on the working-age (ages 21-64) population with disabilities by state in the United States. They contain information on the population size, prevalence, employment, earnings, poverty, household income, home ownership, and activity limitations of working-age people with disabilities, as well as the composition of this population by age, race, gender, and educational attainment. Comparisons are made to working-age people without disabilities, across types of disabilities, and to the previous year.” Annual state reports are also available.
A Guide to Disability Statistics from the 2000 Decennial Census
User Guide on the American Community Survey
The Disability Statistics Center at the University of California, San Francisco http://www.dsc.ucsf.edu/main.php has a series of publications and reports on issues ranging from technology use to employment. They work with the Center for Personal Assistance Services at the UC-SF http://www.pascenter.org/state_based_stats/index.php?state= to provides state specific personal assistance services data, including state disability statistics, number of home and personal care workers in state, state program data, medicaid waiver data in state, state and federal Medicaid HCBS data.
Finding Disability Data:
Understanding Disability Statistics:
Research support by US Dept of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research grant #H133B030501. Opinions expressed reflect those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the funding agency.