We Need Better Rural Data

We’ve learned a lot of lessons—most of them painful—during the current COVID-19 crisis.  In the policy-making world, we’re certainly learning that we need to do a better job in developing, using, and sharing data, research, and analysis.  While we’re now rightly focused on issues related to public health data, we also need to think about how to address other data challenges as we move toward economic recovery.  The lack of good data on rural America is one pressing challenge that deserves more attention, and has rightly been called out in a new Aspen Institute report, “In Search of Good Rural Data:  Measuring Rural Prosperity.”  The report highlights a series of challenges that I deal with on a regular basis when EntreWorks is working in rural regions—the quality and availability of economic data is very poor.  A variety of factors is at work—it’s hard to get representative samples in rural areas, some rural data is “suppressed” for privacy reasons, and we have varying definitions of what is rural.   What this means is that, to a certain extent, we may be flying blind when trying to understand rural economies.  We know a lot about economic trends in big cities, but less about what’s happening in smaller places.  We know that good policy depends on good data, so if we want better rural policy, we need better rural data too. This report offers a number of very useful ideas on how to close this gap, and is well worth a look.