Magazine article Amber Waves

Veterans Are Positioned to Contribute Economically to Rural Communities

Magazine article Amber Waves

Veterans Are Positioned to Contribute Economically to Rural Communities

Article excerpt

Veterans are a rapidly aging and increasingly diverse group disproportionally represented by rural Americans. Nearly 19 million veterans lived in the United States in 2015; about 3.4 million of them were located in rural areas. Examining data from the U.S. Census Bureau can reveal information about who they are, where they live, the type of work they do, and how they fare economically. This information can help policymakers and others to better align veteran and community needs.

Veterans Are a Diverse Group With Diverse Needs

The U.S. Census Bureau classifies veterans based on when they last served in the military, not where-regardless of whether they were on active duty prior to that date. The majority of veterans who served since September 2001 are Post-Draft Era or All-Volunteer Force (AVF) veterans, as are a small share who served before that date. The AVF began in 1973, so most AVF veterans are working age (18 to 64 years old), while most Draft Era veterans are 65 years or older. In 2015, about 45 percent of rural veterans were working age; the rest were elder veterans.

Differences in military structure, enlistment policy, and national demographic trends between working-age and elder veterans make each group distinctively unique. For instance, elder veterans are predominantly male (98 percent in 2015) and white non-Hispanic (92 percent). By comparison, working-age veterans are more diverse, with a larger and growing female (12 percent) and racial/ethnic minority (17 percent) presence.

Where Veterans Live Reflects Who They Are

Veterans are overrepresented in rural America. Nearly 18 percent of veterans live in rural (nonmetro) counties, compared to 15 percent of the U.S. adult civilian population. About 10 percent of all rural civilian adults are veterans, but in some rural counties that figure can reach as high as 25 percent. The U.S. counties with the highest share of veterans tend to have significantly larger shares or concentrations of elder veterans relative to the Nation as a whole. Those counties are characteristically different than the ones with working-age veteran concentrations as discussed below using ERS Rural Classifications, which measure rurality in detail and assess the economic and social diversity of rural America.

Working-age and elder veterans are concentrated in counties with different characteristics. Areas with concentrations of workingage veterans are predominantly large urban counties (28 percent of all U.S. counties). By comparison, areas with concentrations of elder veterans are more likely to be completely rural counties not adjacent to metro areas (24 percent). Areas that contain concentrations of both groups are mostly rural counties adjacent to metro areas (19 percent). Many of these counties contain or neighbor military installations, reserve bases, or training areas.

The regional concentration of rural veterans varies with a county's economic dependence, as classified by the ERS County Typology Codes. In 2015, there were 444 farming-dependent counties (88 percent rural), and 71 percent of them had concentrations of veterans. By comparison, there were 1,714 other natural resource counties (78 percent rural) and nearly 58 percent of them had concentrations of veterans. Other natural resource counties had high employment relative to the Nation in agriculture and fishing, forestry, hunting, and mining-but do not meet the ERS definition of farm dependent. (See U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for the definition of natural resource industry.)

However, the concentrations within these counties also varied with the type of veteran. …

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