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America Really Is a Nation of Suburbs

New data shows that the majority of Americans describe their neighborhoods as suburban. Yet we still lack an official government definition of suburban areas.
Children play in Rockville Town Square in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Children play in Rockville Town Square in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.Larry Downing/Reuters

The geography of America is shifting. Population and job growth are happening faster in suburbs than in urban neighborhoods. At the same time, crowded urban neighborhoods are getting richer and their housing is getting more expensive. There are clear statistical differences among Americans living in urban, suburban, and rural parts of America when it comes to voting patterns, attitudes on social issues, labor and economic outcomes, and health outcomes.  The distinction between urban and rural matters to the federal government, and there is an abundance of official federal definitions of urban and rural. And yet among these definitions, none includes a third category: suburban.

The lack of an official federal definition of suburban means that government data are not reported separately for suburban areas. That makes it hard to measure the reach and impact of federal programs and to produce vital statistics about Americans and their communities.