population—whereas California and Nevada each have less than 10 percent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000a). However, the percentage for Nevada can be misleading because there are vast areas of open country in Nevada consisting of sagebrush and desert where no people live, noted Burke. In contrast, Iowa’s rural areas have a small town almost every 10 miles. Thus, the meaning of “rural” for Iowa and Nevada is very different, noted Burke.
The Office of Management and Budget offers another way of looking at “urban” and “rural” by distinguishing between “metropolitan” and “nonmetropolitan” counties. If there is a city of 50,000 people or more, that city and the entire surrounding county are considered a part of a metropolitan county. If a county does not have a city of 50,000 or more but sits next to a county with such a city and more than 25 percent of its population commutes to that city, then that county is considered part of the metropolitan area as well. On this basis, Iowa has 20 metropolitan counties and 79 nonmetropolitan ones. Burke noted that if these definitions were applied to California and Nevada, they would each have many metropolitan areas. In Nevada, for example, the metropolitan area of Las Vegas takes in the entire county, and whereas counties in Iowa are each about 30 square miles, Nevada’s counties are significantly larger by comparison. The metropolitan area of Las Vegas comprises a lot of unsettled desert. The same is true of southeastern California, where counties with large areas of desert would qualify as metropolitan counties because they have or are adjacent to a city with a population of more than 50,000.
Burke noted that the rural population can be counted on the basis of agricultural output: The individuals must live on at least one acre of land and sell at least $1,000 of agricultural products per year to be counted as rural. Using this definition, the 2000 census showed that in the United States less than 3 million people, or approximately 1.1 percent of the U.S. population, live on farms. Therefore, the majority of people in the United States are not intimately associated with a farm and may not have an understanding of what happens on a farm, food production activities, or the problems that farmers face, said Burke. Today, less than 6 percent of Iowa’s population lives on farms, and farming is a smaller part of rural life than it has been in the past. Not only are fewer people living on farms, but even if they live on a farm, many are working off the farm for their incomes. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey of farmers indicates that for about 33 percent of farm households, neither the farmer nor the farmer’s spouse works off the farm, which means that for almost 70 percent of farm households, somebody—either the farmer or the farmer’s spouse, or both—works off the farm (USDA, ERS, 2005). Consequently, the majority of the income for even the very small proportion of the U.S. population engaged in farming is coming from off-the-farm sources, noted Burke. Interestingly, she noted that one of the reasons given for off-farm work was that the employment was a way of obtaining health insurance (Figure 2-1).