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Rural Definitions

Oregon Office of Rural Health

There are four main definitions of rural. The Oregon Office of Rural Health utilizes population numbers from the Population Research Center at Portland State University to determine the definition of 'rural.'

Characteristics of the Oregon Office of Rural Health working definition of rural:

  • Based on distance
  • All geographic areas 10 or more miles from the centroid of a population center of 40,000+
  • Current methodology circa 1990
  • Updated every year

Health Policy Use

  • Oregon rural practitioner tax credit qualification
  • Rural areas only are included in Unmet Healthcare Need determination. Unmet Need areas qualify for loan repayment.
  • Critical Access Hospital qualification—ORH definition overrides Goldsmith.
  • Rural Medical Practitioners Insurance Subsidy Program qualification

Download a table on how these different definitions of "Rural" affect healthcare policy.

Download a list of Oregon Zip Codes and their ORH Urban/Rural Designation.

View the ORH Urban/Rural Designation Map
Is my community rural? Learn more.

Census Bureau

  • Download an Urban/Rural map based on the Census Bureau definition (updated March 2012)
  • Based on census block groups and census blocks
  • Urbanized Area (UA):
    • Consists of contiguous, densely settled census block groups (BG) and census blocks (at least 500 people per square mile) that together encompass a population of more than 50,000.
  • Urban Cluster (UC):
    • Consists of contiguous, densely settled BGs and census blocks (500 ppsm) that together encompasses a population of at least 2,500 people but less than 50,000 people.
  • What is Rural:
    • All population and territory that is not a UA or UC
  • Update Status
    • Current methodology circa 2012
    • Population numbers based on 2010 Census
    • Update decennially
  • Health Policy Use:
    • Clinics located outside of "Urbanized Areas" are geographically eligible for Rural Health Clinic designation.

For more information visit The Census Bureau web page on urban and rural classification.

Office of Management and Budget

  • Download a map based on the Office of Management and Budget's MSA - Metro/Micropolitan/Nonmetro definitions (updated February 2013)
  • County-based
  • Definitions of Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA):
    • A county with at least one Census Bureau-defined Urbanized Area (UA) of 50,000 or more population
    • Outlying counties that have a commuting rate of 15% or over to central counties
  • Definition of Micropolitan Statistical Areas
    • A county that has at least one Census Bureau-defined Urban Cluster (UC) of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000 population
    • Adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties
  • Counties not MSAs or Micropolitan are Nonmetro
  • Update Status
    • Current methodology circa 2013
    • Population numbers from Census 2010
    • Updated sporadically
  • Health Policy Use:
    • Used to categorize hospitals as either rural or urban for purposes of Medicare reimbursement

For more information please visit the Census Bureau's website.

WWAMI Rural Health Research Center

  • Download a RUCA (Rural-Urban Commuting Areas) map (updated 2/13/2007) based on the definition by WWAMI Rural Health Research Center (RHRC)
  • Based on census tracts/zip codes
  • 30 categories according to size and commuting patterns:
    1. Metro area Core (>50,000)
    2. Metro area, high commute
    3. Metro area, low commute
    4. Large town Core (10,000-49,999)
    5. Large town, high commute
    6. Large town, low commute
    7. Small town core (2,500-9,999)
    8. Small town, high commute
    9. Small town, low commute
    10. Rural area (<2,500)
  • Update Status
    • Current methodology circa 1990
    • Population numbers based on 2000 Census
    • RUCA Version 2.0 updated on July 2005
  • Health Policy Use:
    • Areas categorized 4-10 are eligible for grants issued by FORHP (Federal Office of Rural Health Policy):
      • Rural Health Outreach
      • Network Development
      • Rural Automated External Defibrillators Grant Program

For more information visit WWAMI's RHRC's website.