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November/December 2007

Inside This Issue:


Rural Middle-Income Households Experiencing Period of Financial Stability
Rural middle-income households are currently experiencing a period of financial stability, according to data collected and analyzed by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. However, a recession, an employment downturn or any number of other factors may threaten this stability.

The analysis also found that statistically significant demographic, economic and educational differences exist between rural and urban middle-income households.

Middle-income households
The analysis compared Pennsylvania’s rural and urban middle-income households, which are defined as those with yearly incomes of $37,501 to $57,000, using the 2006 and 2007 Rural Pennsylvania Current Population Survey (RuralPA-CPS). The RuralPA-CPS is conducted annually by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Survey Research.

For the analysis, the Center identified households as middle-income if they were in the middle fifth of the Pennsylvania income distribution (See Table on Page 3). Household income includes the total earned and unearned income from all household members.

The analysis looked at five factors affecting rural and urban middle-income households: demographics, employment, health insurance, housing and educational attainment. 

Range of Household Income in Rural and Urban Pennsylvania, 2006-2007

Differences, similarities exist
There are a number of differences between rural and urban middle-income households, and they generally center on households with children and household types. For example:

To maintain their middle-income status, rural households rely more on the dual wage earnings of their members than urban households. In rural areas, 45 percent of middle-income households have two or more wage earners, while 34 percent of urban middle-income households have two or more wage earners. Other employment differences between rural and urban middle-income families include the following:

In terms of health insurance, rural and urban middle-income households were somewhat similar:

Significant differences in educational attainment levels exist between rural and urban middle-income adults. For example:

The bottom line
According to the analysis, the demographic, economic and education differences between rural and urban middle-income households are significant. These differences suggest that middle-income households in Pennsylvania are not homogeneous and that programs and policies aimed at assisting middle-income households may impact rural and urban households differently. 

The analysis also suggests that the importance of manufacturing jobs to rural middle-income households may be a concern since manufacturing employment is on the decline. According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, manufacturing employment in rural areas declined 11 percent between 2001 and 2006. In urban areas there was a 19 percent decline. Continuing declines in this sector may have a negative impact on rural middle-income households.

Lower educational attainment levels, in addition to the dependency on manufacturing jobs, could make rural middle-income households more economically vulnerable than urban middle-income households during poor economic times. A recession or employment downturn may threaten their economic stability, as could any number of other factors, including increased energy costs, inflation and tightening credit markets.

For now, however, rural middle-income households seem to be enjoying a period of financial stability.

Fact sheet available
For a copy of the complete fact sheet, A Comparison of Rural and Urban Middle-Income Households, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555, email or visit


Chairman’s Message
When you hear the words “rural Pennsylvania,” what places come to mind? Do you think of small towns and villages, forestland, mountains and valleys, rolling farmland? Rural Pennsylvania is all of these places and more, and over the past 20 years, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania has focused its attention on addressing the issues that affect all of these rural areas and the people who live there.

As the Center commemorates its 20 years of service to the Pennsylvania General Assembly and to rural Pennsylvania, the board and staff thank the Pennsylvania Legislature, and the many institutions, organizations, and individuals that have helped the Center fulfill its mission and contribute to positive change for rural Pennsylvania.

Over the years, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania has been privileged to work with numerous dedicated faculty and administrators at the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities and the Pennsylvania State University to research issues that affect our state’s rural areas and its 3.4 million rural residents. The breadth and depth of this research illustrate the diversity of challenges and opportunities facing our commonwealth. Some examples include: community development, downtown revitalization, land use management, housing, the cost of living, telecommunications, alternative education, health care, and agritourism. From 1987 to 2007, the end result of our work has remained constant: to contribute to the body of knowledge about rural Pennsylvania, and to identify program and policy options that can have meaningful impact for rural residents.

In addition to the Center’s research program, another useful tool serving that end result is the Center’s database - the state’s largest - on rural trends and conditions. Through its ongoing relationships with various state and federal agencies, associations, and organizations, the Center collects data to develop the most comprehensive profile of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, with a particular focus on our 48 rural ones. As needed, we supplement that database with current information from our own in-house survey efforts. 

In the relatively short time span of 20 years, the Center has earned a reputation for its creditable and reliable information and its perspective on rural issues. From township supervisors to school superintendents, Main Street managers to the media, and legislators to executive branch personnel, the Center is often called upon to share its research and data. This reputation extends beyond the commonwealth’s borders. At the national level, the Center is recognized for its quality work and is regularly called upon to contribute a Pennsylvania perspective. Pennsylvania is, after all, home to the nation’s third largest rural population.

Our collective work and achievement would not be possible without the valuable direction and oversight of former and current board members. Each has applied his or her expertise to carefully develop the Center’s research and data gathering activities so that Center resources are focused on matters of importance and priority.

As the board and staff look to the future, we remain committed to the goals set forth in our enabling legislation, and will continue to work on behalf of the places and residents who call rural Pennsylvania home.

Senator John Gordner


Research Looks At Rural Trends
Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment
Drug and alcohol problems are widespread across all areas of the nation and state, and rural areas are not immune to their impact.

To understand the status of and trends in substance use and treatment in rural Pennsylvania and the needs for prevention and treatment programs, Drs. Laurie Roehrich and William Meil, along with Jennifer Simansky, William Davis, Jr., and Ryan Dunne of Indiana University of Pennsylvania conducted research in 2004. The research was sponsored by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

To carry out the research, the team reviewed trends in alcohol and drug use in rural areas of the state, literature on the cost effectiveness of drug and alcohol treatment, and model science-based treatment and prevention programs; and surveyed rural treatment providers and rural Single County Authority (SCA) members across the state.

Current trends in use
From their review of trends in alcohol and drug use in rural areas, the researchers found data indicating that tobacco use is higher in rural areas, and that alcohol and drug use may be higher among rural adolescents when compared to urban teens. Recent data also show high school seniors in Pennsylvania drink, smoke, and use other drugs more than their counterparts across the country. Perhaps most alarming is the rate of binge drinking reported among these students, a behavior typically highest among those in rural areas. The data also show that rural communities are worried about methamphetamine and heroin use and that the use of OxyContin and other pharmaceuticals has increased and appears to be somewhat more concentrated in rural areas.

Cost effectiveness of treatment
In terms of the cost effectiveness of treatment, the researchers found that even brief outpatient treatments appear to significantly decrease costs to the individual and to society as a whole. Compared to many other types of health care interventions, alcohol and drug abuse treatments are significantly less expensive than most medical procedures.

The researchers also found that there are a large number of both treatment and prevention intervention methods currently in existence, which are science-based and widely considered to be effective. However, it is important to note that, to date, almost none of these interventions have been researched in rural areas, including Pennsylvania. This is one area where the state could be collecting data to determine how best to use these methods in rural settings.

Barriers to treatment
The survey of SCAs and treatment centers in rural Pennsylvania also yielded interesting results. The SCA survey indicated that barriers exist to substance abuse prevention and treatment programs in rural areas and there was uncertainty among respondents about the prevention and treatment services in their communities and the adequacy of funding for the services. The survey of treatment centers helped the researchers to create a profile of providers in rural Pennsylvania and found that the retention and recruitment of treatment center personnel will depend highly on continuing education and training and adequate compensation.

Full report available
For a copy of the report, Substance Abuse in Rural Pennsylvania: Present and Future, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555, email or visit


Locally Owned Rural Bridges
Federal Highway Administration (FHA) data indicate that of the nearly 595,000 bridges in the United States in 2006, about half were owned and maintained by county or municipal governments. 

According to the FHA data, 16 percent of the nation’s locally owned bridges are structurally deficient, meaning that the bridges have been restricted to light vehicles, require immediate rehabilitation to remain open, or are closed.

Within Pennsylvania, recently released data from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation show that, in 2007, there are nearly twice as many structurally deficient county and municipally owned bridges in rural areas than there are in urban areas.

There are 1,292 deficient bridges in rural areas, or 33 percent of all locally owned bridges in rural areas. In urban areas, 665 of the bridges are deficient, or 28 percent of all locally owned urban bridges. 

The average locally owned, structurally deficient bridge in rural Pennsylvania is 53 feet long and was built in 1930. In urban areas, the average structurally deficient bridge is 99 feet long and was built in 1929. 

In rural areas, 61 percent of locally owned bridges that are structurally deficient have posted weight restrictions; 10 percent are closed; and 29 percent are open without restrictions. In urban areas, 48 percent of structurally deficient bridges have weight restrictions; 10 percent are closed; and 41 percent are open with no restrictions. 


Research Addresses Biosolids Disposal in Pennsylvania
Centralized wastewater collection and treatment, while providing numerous health and environmental benefits, produces by-product solids that present a set of complex issues and challenges. Biosolids are wastewater solids treated to meet contaminant standards that make them suitable for recycling. Currently, three major biosolids management options exist in Pennsylvania: land application, landfilling, and incineration. 

Research objectives
In 2005, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania contracted with Drs. Herschel A. Elliott, Robin C. Brandt, and James S. Shortle of Pennsylvania State University to assess current biosolids management practices and associated costs for Pennsylvania’s municipal wastewater treatment plants.

The specific objectives of the research were to inventory current biosolids disposal and recycling methods in Pennsylvania, evaluate the financial costs associated with the major disposal methods, and explore relevant public policy implications and recommendations.

Policy principles, recommendations
After completing the research, the researchers used the following principles to develop the policy considerations: biosolids management options must be affordable for small communities and promote the welfare of rural residents; since no biosolids management options are environmentally benign in all respects, future policies must strike a balance between environmental protection and affordability; and consistent with Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection priorities, an emphasis should be placed on beneficial use and recycling rather than disposal. 

Based on these principles, the researchers proposed three specific policy directions as follows:

Report available
For a copy of the full research report, Biosolids Disposal in Pennsylvania, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555, email or visit


Fast Fact: Reported Serious Crimes in Rural and Urban Pennsylvania, 1984 to 2006
(Number of reported Part 1 crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery and assault, per 100,000 residents)

Data source: Pennsylvania State Police, Uniform Crime Report


Minority Population Increasing in Rural Counties
The nation has been witnessing a steady increase in its minority population, and rural and urban Pennsylvania are mirroring this trend.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, between 2000 and 2005, there was a 12 percent increase in the minority population in Pennsylvania. During this period, rural counties saw a 26 percent increase in their minority population and urban counties saw an 11 percent increase.

 Data from the 2006 and 2007 Rural Pennsylvania Current Population Survey, or RuralPA-CPS, indicate that African-Americans are the largest minority group in the state. African-Americans make up 32 percent of the minority population in rural areas and 65 percent of the minority population in urban areas.

The average rural Pennsylvania minority is 31 years old, as opposed to the average rural Pennsylvanian who is 41 years old. The average urban minority is 32 years old.

The RuralPA-CPS data show that 66 percent of rural minority households have children. This percentage is considerably higher than the 48 percent of all rural households with children. The number of urban minority households with children is 62 percent as opposed to 49 percent of all urban households with children. The majority of both rural and urban minority households are married couples with children.

As to unemployment status, 14 percent of rural minorities are unemployed versus 8 percent of all rural residents; 13 percent of urban minorities are unemployed versus 7 percent of all urban residents.

Twenty-nine percent of rural minority households are considered low-income, or those households with incomes of $22,100 or less. This is almost twice as high as the 16 percent of all rural households that are considered low-income. The situation is not much better for urban minorities, as 21 percent of urban minority households are low-income versus 12 percent of all urban households. The median income for rural minority households is approximately $10,000 less than the income of all rural households, and for urban minority households, the median income is $20,000 less than all urban households.

Both rural and urban minorities are more likely to rely on income support programs, such as Supplemental Security Income, Food Stamps, cash benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, unemployment compensation and other public programs.

Minority Population by County, 2005

Data source: U.S. Census Bureau. Minorities are defined as those persons who are white Hispanic/Latino and non-white.


Just the Facts: Rural Housing Boom
Pennsylvania saw a 4 percent increase in housing units from 2000 to 2006, according to data from the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. This increase ranges from 2 percent in the southwest region to 7 percent in the south central region of the state.

Interestingly, the increase in housing has been growing faster than the population. From 2000 to 2006, the rural population increased 1 percent, while housing increased 4 percent. There was a similar pattern in urban areas.

During this same time period, the number of housing units per capita remained practically the same: 0.4 housing units per capita statewide as well as in rural and urban counties.

Nationally, there was a 9 percent increase in the number of housing units from 2000 to 2006. The states with the largest housing increases (18 percent or more) were Nevada, Arizona and Georgia. The states with the smallest increases (2 percent) were Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts. Louisiana saw a decrease of 1 percent. Among all states, Pennsylvania ranked 45th in housing unit increases.

From 2000 to 2006, the number of owner-occupied housing units in Pennsylvania increased 2 percent: rural counties experienced a 1 percent increase and urban counties experienced a 2 percent increase.

In rural areas, the number of renter-occupied housing units increased 3 percent while urban areas saw a decrease of 1 percent.


USDA Offers Ag Statistics on New Website
The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) has developed a new Website offering information about the upcoming 2007 Census of Agriculture. The site, at, answers questions about the census and offers data from previous censuses, dating back to 1840. Users also may download a draft of the census form. NASS will mail census forms on December 28 to collect information for the 2007 calendar year. The deadline to submit information is February 4, 2008. The agriculture census, which is conducted every five years, is a complete count of the nation’s farms and ranches and includes information on land use, farm ownership, production practices and farm income.