Rural Livability


Rural America is home to many older adults. Almost one quarter of Americans age 50 and older live in rural communities. Older adults also make up a larger share of the population in rural areas than in metropolitan areas. This share increased over the last decade while the share of working-age adults declined.

Living in rural communities offers many benefits. They include greater access to nature, more open space, less traffic, and cleaner air. In addition, residents often have a deep commitment to civic involvement and face fewer bureaucratic hurdles than those in metropolitan areas. But living in rural areas also poses a number of challenges, particularly for older adults who want to age in place. Greater geographical isolation means that residents are more likely to depend on a car for transportation. Lack of density means that rural communities may lack access to key services, such as banks and high-speed internet in the home. They also tend to have fewer employment opportunities and a rapidly deteriorating housing stock.

American Indian and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) constitute an important part of rural America. According to the Census Bureau, 2.6 percent of Americans identify in some way as AI/AN. A higher proportion of AI/AN people live in rural areas relative to any other racial or ethnic group. Much of this is on Indian reservations and trust lands. AI/AN people face many of the same challenges that other rural residents face. However, the problems are usually more severe in AI/AN communities because they are particularly hard to reach and significantly underserved. For instance, residents of AI/AN communities are more likely to live in extremely substandard and overcrowded conditions.

A variety of measures could improve livability for people in rural areas and on tribal lands. This includes strategies that can provide employment opportunities, encourage people to spend money in their community, and ensure access to affordable and safe housing as well as necessary goods and services such as high-speed internet. 



High-speed internet in rural communities

Policymakers and the private sector should ensure universal access in rural areas to affordable high-speed internet services in the home and to digital skills programs (see also High-Speed Internet Services). Rural residents of all ages, particularly older adults, should be able to virtually connect with friends and family, employment opportunities, education and training, and key products and services such as health care and banking.

Rural transportation

Policymakers and the private sector should develop and implement transportation programs to ensure mobility for rural residents, particularly those who do not drive. This includes community transportation programs and intercity transportation options that allow rural residents to establish social connections and to reach key goods and services such as health care, shopping, social services, employment, and educational opportunities (see also Rural and Intercity Transportation).

Rural housing

Policymakers should expand access to safe, appropriate, and affordable homes for rural residents. This includes through:

Rural employment

Policymakers and the private sector should ensure access to robust business development and employment training opportunities in rural communities. These are vital to residents’ economic security, as well the community’s overall economic health. These trainings should include employment-related skills development (see also Job Training and Education) and the creation and maintenance of small businesses (see also Small Businesses and Self-Employment and Small-Business Lending).

Development on tribal lands

Policymakers should increase funding and provide technical assistance for community and economic development activities on tribal lands. At the federal level, this includes expanding the Indian Community Development Block Grant program, a key source of flexible economic development funding on tribal lands, and the Indian Housing Block Grant program. 

Programs should increase tribal skills training and employment opportunities, including self-employment and small business development (see also Job Training and Education, as well as Small Businesses and Self-Employment). They should also monitor the conditions of the housing in AI/AN communities and ensure access to affordable, safe, and appropriate housing for residents (see also Subsidized Rental Housing and Housing Quality and Safety).

Found in Rural Livability