By Bob Smietana
No matter where they live, Americans are worried about drugs and good jobs.
They’re often disconnected from their neighbors and think outsiders don’t understand them.
And more than a few are thinking about moving.
Those are among the findings of a new study of life in urban, rural, and suburban America from Pew Research. The study of 6,251 Americans found distinct life patterns and demographics in each of those three areas.
Still, many Americans worry about the same things, whether they live in the city or the countryside.
Take drug addiction. Forty-two percent of Americans say addiction is a major problem where they live. Forty-five percent say it is a minor problem. Eleven percent say it is not a problem.
Fifty percent of urban dwellers say addiction is a major problem. So do 46 percent of rural dwellers. By contrast, only 35 percent of suburbanites say addiction is a major problem.
Americans in cities and rural communities also see jobs and affordable housing as major problems in their community. Forty-two percent of rural Americans and 34 percent of urban Americans say the availability of jobs is a major problem.
Fifty-two percent of Americans in urban areas and 36 percent of those in rural areas also say affordable housing is a major problem.
Poverty is also a major issue in urban (42 percent) and rural areas alike (36 percent).
Suburban dwellers say jobs (22 percent), affordable housing (34 percent), and poverty (21 percent) are less of a problem.
Another thing rural and urban dwellers have in common: both feel misunderstood.
Seventy percent of Americans in rural areas and 65 percent of those in urban areas say outsiders don’t understand the problems they have. Two-thirds of urban dwellers (62 percent) and more than half of rural dwellers (56 percent) say outsiders have a negative view of their community.
Suburbanites, by contrast, say outsiders like them. Sixty percent say outsiders have a positive view of the community. Half (52 percent) say outsiders don’t understand them.
Still, Pew says, many Americans believe they understand the problems other communities face.
“For example, 67 percent of urban dwellers say they understand the problems faced by those in the suburbs very or somewhat well, and 59 percent say they understand the problems faced by those in rural areas,” according to Pew.
“Similarly, 64 percent in rural areas say they understand the problems facing those in the suburbs and 57 percent say they understand the problems urban dwellers face.”
The study found those in rural America are most likely to stay put.
Almost half of rural Americans (47 percent) say they live in or near the community where they grew up. And 1 in 4 (26 percent) say they’ve always lived in or near the community where they grew up.
By contrast, 38 percent of suburbanites and 42 percent of urban dwellers say they live in or near the place where they grew up. Twenty-one percent of urban dwellers and 18 percent of suburbanites have always lived in or near the same community.
Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of those in rural areas had lived in the community for 11 years or more. Fifty-three percent of suburban dwellers and 45 percent of urban dwellers had stayed in the same place.
Folks in urban areas were most likely (37 percent) to say they’d move if they had the chance. A third (34 percent) of suburbanites would like to leave. So would a quarter of rural dwellers.
Family ties are the top reason people live near their hometowns.
“Whether they are living in an urban, suburban, or rural area, more adults who say they still live in or near the community where they grew up list proximity to family than any other factor as a top reason why they’ve never left,” according to Pew.
Not all Americans know their neighbors well
Interestingly, relatively few Americans (16 percent) feel very attached to the place they live, no matter where that is. Those living in urban, rural, and suburban areas all report similar levels of attachment.
Americans younger than 30 are least likely (8 percent) to be very attached to their communities. Americans 65 and older are more likely (27 percent).
Rural dwellers are more likely to say they know all or most of their neighbors (40 percent). A quarter of urban dwellers say they know all or most of their neighbors (24 percent), as do 28 percent of suburbanites.
Overall, about half of Americans (49 percent) say they talk to their neighbors face to face at least once a week. More than a quarter (29 percent) speak to their neighbors once a month or less.
Fewer than half (41 percent) have parties or get-togethers with their neighbors.
At least half feel they have a strong support network, whether they live in a rural (54 percent), suburban (58 percent), or urban (50 percent) area.
Divided by race, politics, money
Pew found significant differences in the demographics of rural, urban, and suburban areas.
Urban areas are more ethnically diverse than other parts of the country, according to Pew.
Fifty-six percent of urban residents are not white. By contrast, only 32 percent of suburban residents and 21 percent of rural residents are not white.
Sixty-two percent of registered voters in urban areas are Democrats or lean Democratic. A third (31 percent) are Republican or lean Republican. In rural areas, 54 percent of registered voters are Republican or lean Republican, while 38 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic. Suburban areas are split down the middle: 47 percent Democratic, 45 percent Republican.
As part of the study, Pew also looked at U.S. Census data as well as data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Among the findings:
- Just over half (55 percent) of Americans live in the suburbs. Fourteen percent live in rural areas, while 31 percent live in urban areas.
- Few immigrants live in rural areas. Four percent of rural dwellers were born in another country. Eleven percent of suburbanites and 22 percent of urban dwellers are foreign-born.
- Rural areas are slightly older. Eighteen percent of rural dwellers are 65 and older. That drops to 15 percent in suburban areas and 13 percent in urban areas.
- The population of rural areas is relatively stagnant. Rural areas grew by 3 percent from 2000 to 2016. Urban areas (13 percent) and suburban areas (16 percent) grew much more.
- The average income of urban workers was $49,515 in 2016. Suburban workers made an average of $46,081, while rural workers made $35,171.
- Why the Rural Church Matters
- Goodbye, City Life? More Americans Choose Suburbs
- Rooted: How a New York City Church Loves Its Community With the Whole Gospel
- 5 Ways Your Church Can Meet Your Community’s Needs
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.