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A Complex Portrait of Rural America

New Census data show that the real differences between the city and the country may not match up with popular perception.
Rural Rocky Ford in Colorado is a long way off, economically and physically, from Denver.
Rural Rocky Ford in Colorado is a long way off, economically and physically, from Denver.Brennan Linsley/AP

That rural-urban divide you’ve been hearing about? It happened back in 1920, when the number of Americans who lived in cities overtook those who lived in the countryside.

In the years since, urban centers have ballooned in population, while the spaces in between have housed roughly the same number of residents. As cities became the nation’s economic powerhouses, drawing folks from all around the world, older, whiter rural America has felt left behind—overshadowed, economically and culturally, by the urban elites, and passed over in favor of the “undeserving” urban poor.