The development of different taxonomies for describing rural America is central to policy relevant research, policy analysis, political debate, and the implementation of federal and state programs. The most popular rural classification systems are:
- Rural-Urban Commuting Areas (RUCAs) (Census Tract and ZIP code based)
- Office of Management and Budget’s Metropolitan and Non Metropolitan Areas (county-based)
- Census Bureau’s Urban and Rural definitions (Census tract-based on population and density)
- Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service’s Rural-Urban Continuum Codes (sometimes called the Beale Codes – county-based employing OMB metro status, county urban population, and commuting)
- Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service’s Urban Influence Codes (county-based employing OMB metro status, size of largest city/town, and commuting)
- Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service’s County Typology Codes (county-based employing OMB metro status and various county demographic factors – e.g., persistant poverty status)
- Isserman Urban-Rural Density Typology (county-based).
- Goldsmith Reclassification (Census tract-based for large area counties employing 1980 Census place and commuting information)
- There are many rural and urban classification systems used for individual states (e.g., Washington State Generalist Health Service Areas)
- In addition, there are many other less frequently used rural and urban categorizations (see additional references). In addition, there is a whole group of other taxonomies aimed at creating service areas (e.g., Department of Agriculture's Commuting Zones and Labor Markets, Dartmouth Hospital Service Areas, Rand McNally Trade Areas, and Dartmouth Primary Care Services Areas (PCSAs).
- National Center for Frontier Communities Consensus Frontier Definition
Why We Need a New Taxonomy
- Most of current definitions of rural are based on county boundaries, which results in substantial under and over bounding of urban areas (rural areas being lumped with large urban areas).
- Many current definitions are dichotomies and do not appropriately take into account the great variation across rural areas.
- Policy and study definitions should fit unique needs.
- There is no universal “only” or “best” definition.
- The concept of rural is nebulous at best.
- The RUCA codes provide policy makers and researchers with a sub county alternative that categorizes all of the nation's Census tracts with standard criteria.
- The RUCA Codes are a classification system that allows users to tailor the codes to their needs taking functional relationships, density, and population into account.
- The ZIP code version of the RUCAs provides a sub-county alternative rural/urban taxonomy that uses a geographic unit (ZIP code area) that is readily available on many health care data sets.
- The RUCA Codes are based on standard Census Bureau commuting data and Urbanized Area and Urban Cluster definitions.
- The RUCA Codes provide a scheme that allows federal and state programs and research to be better targeted across the spectrum of rural places.