Working, but poor: The good life in rural America?

Brian C. Thiede, Daniel T. Lichter, Tim Slack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


A secure job that pays above-poverty wages is a fundamental economic underpinning of a good life, but one that is absent or precarious for many workers in the rural United States. This paper examines the link between work and poverty in rural America, drawing comparisons over time and in relation to national averages and conditions in urban areas. Using data from the 2001 to 2014 Current Population Surveys, we address three analytic objectives. First, we track changes in the share of poor householders in work, and compare the prevalence of work between the rural and urban poor. Second, we estimate trends in the share of rural and urban workers who are poor, and highlight key social and demographic differentials. Third and finally, we estimate a series of logistic regression models to assess whether and to what extent rural-urban and temporal differences can be explained by the composition of the workforce and changes therein. Results show that an increasing share of the rural poor are out of work, and that the risk of poverty among those who are employed has also increased. While some of the longstanding rural disadvantage appears to have moderated in recent years, these changes are largely due to declining conditions in urban areas. Overall, our results support pessimistic conclusions about the economic status of rural America's workforce, and the ability of rural American's to meet the basic requisites of the good life through work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-193
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
StatePublished - Apr 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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