Rural communities are hungry for change

We are passionate about the places we call home and are deeply connected to the people, land, and traditions that define us. Rural Democracy Initiative provides tools and opportunities for groups to leverage their strengths to improve our communities.

Rural Demographics by The Numbers

Supporting rural communities includes understanding who lives here, and realizing that rural communities look different from each other.

24%

are Black, Indigenous, and people of color

1/10

Rural counties are majority Black, Indigenous, and people of color

4.9%

identify as Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian

20%

Increase in rural Hispanic population since 2010

1/3

of voters live in small towns and rural areas

37%

of voters who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color live in small cities and rural areas

Photo: Neighboring Movement

Tool

Defining Rural

Rural Democracy uses a combination of census tract coding, population density, and proximity to a major city to define where is rural and small city.

Rural dashboard on laptop

Working for progress despite limited access to tools and opportunities

People in rural communities are 25% more likely to live in poverty and face mortality rates 18% higher than people in metro areas. Our communities also have the highest rates of incarceration in the nation. Rural workers earn less, are more likely to be injured on the job, and are less likely to have benefits like paid leave or healthcare.

Growing corporate power and decades of federal and state disinvestment have left our communities facing unique challenges. Only 7% of funds from the top 1,200 major philanthropies go to rural areas, and there is a lot of variation in the availability of those funds for the communities who need them. As a result, 91 of the 100 most disadvantaged communities in the United States are rural.

Recent economic struggles have accelerated these challenges, with our communities hit harder by the economic downturn. Following the pandemic, it took three years for rural employment to catch up, while urban areas recovered much faster with higher wages. This slow recovery mirrors the uneven impacts of the 2008 crash.

People in rural communities are deeply connected to each other — on both an economic and a social level. Hardships are experienced on a communal level, and people in rural communities take great pride in supporting each other and creating community solutions.

State of Local News

Decline of Local News Outlets

The decline in local news is correlated with a decline in voter participation, and three million residents live in the 204 counties without a single news source. These are predominantly rural, and residents often lack cable or reliable high-speed internet access. Without a local news service or broadband, many people rely on their cell phones, which offer a diet heavy on national news, as well as misinformation and disinformation.

Common Defense organizes veterans to stand up against hatred and racism in their communities.

Rural is Ready for More

Rural focus groups show that rural people want to tell stories about rural life, celebrate our victories, and highlight our challenges. While many of our communities grapple with daunting challenges, we resolutely seek ways to overcome these obstacles and embrace prosperity. Our communities act out of hope and help people to both receive and offer support.

Rural people want to breathe new life into our homes by bringing manufacturing jobs to our towns rather than shipping them overseas. We want to lower the prices of prescription drugs, improve our schools, and help local workers get skilled training. A recent RDI poll confirmed what many of us already knew: rural voters overwhelmingly agree the government should support small and independent family farms over large corporate agribusinesses. And rural people are pushing back against the partisan politics and culture war rhetoric that have been dividing us rather than helping rural Americans work together for shared prosperity.

Rural voters support policies that change our lives

Polling shows that rural voters support policies that create real change in our lives. Rural people support the Inflation Reduction Act and passing a new voting rights act. In addition, 92% of rural battleground voters agree that we should shift government support from corporate agribusinesses to small and independent family farms. 74% of rural battleground voters also agree that abortion should be legal.

Lowering prices, bringing good-paying jobs to our communities, and combating corporate greed are as important to rural communities as values like family and freedom. Concerns about housing, retirement and social security, health and reproductive care, dysfunction in government, and jobs and the economy are also top issues.

Faith in Indiana
The New Pennsylvania Project registers voters, provides issue education, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to vote in every election.

Invest in Rural Leadership

Right now, rural communities have a generational opportunity to unite around practical solutions. Unprecedented levels of federal infrastructure, economic development, and climate-focused resources are beginning to flow into rural communities. Rural Democracy supports rural leaders with power building, civic engagement, running for office, electoral organizing, and creating sustainable coalitions that span geography and race. In addition to grantmaking, we support rural leaders and organizations through convening, research, and communications. We’ve seen tremendous gains using this approach — increasing participation, passing and implementing life-saving policy, and building momentum for the years to come. Yet, rural leaders don’t have the resources they need. With more resources, groups can expand to engage more people and build the power to change our lives and communities.