By Elizabeth Zach, RCAC staff writer

Photo of people working in an office.While the U.S. Census Bureau reported last week that rural incomes lag behind pay growth for urban residents, policy experts now say that incomes in rural America in fact grew in 2015.

This discrepancy reflects in part how the government defines “rural,” but also how different surveys measure poverty, employment and incomes. The correct median income number is from the American Community Survey, also compiled by the Census Bureau. It didn’t appear in the official report, however, but instead lay buried in statistical tables.

“Broadly speaking,” writes Quocrung Bui in The New York Times, “on a national level, the two surveys should produce very similar national estimates, which they do. It’s only when you drill down that the differences become apparent.”

Researchers at the policy research group Center on Budget and Policy Priorities first observed the conflicting numbers last week, noting that in 2015, the Census Bureau revised its definition of
metro and rural areas.

Along with definitions, boundaries confuse the issue. The other population survey – called the Current Population Survey – changes its boundaries once every 10 years, while the American Community Survey makes changes incrementally.

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