Rural Sociological Society Executive Council

Statement on Reclassification of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Areas

Writing in our capacity as leaders in the Rural Sociological Society (RSS) – a professional association promoting the generation, application, and dissemination of knowledge – this letter documents concerns over the Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area Standards Review Committee recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)regarding proposed changes in delineating metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas. We express these concerns along with colleagues from other social science organizations and networks, especially members of the W4001 Multistate Project Social, Economic and Environmental Causes and Consequences of Demographic Change in Rural America.

The RSS Executive Council’s overarching concern is the need to have consistency in geographic and population concepts and definitions in order to accurately monitor, track, and interpret population change. This is critical for achieving good science and informing public policy. The changes proposed to the OMB would limit the ability to make sense of changes between and within metropolitan and nonmetropolitan people and places. Listed below are specific criticisms.

The recommendation to change the minimum urban area population for metropolitan status from 50,000 to 100,000 persons has not been adequately justified. A compelling empirical case has not been provided. It is also noteworthy that changing the threshold for metropolitan status would also widen the population size category for micropolitan areas. Such changes would undermine decades of social scientific and public policy collaboration to understand the characteristics and trends of places across the metropolitan-nonmetropolitan spectrum by making historical comparisons extremely complicated.

Annual and bi-decennial updates to classifications would exacerbate these challenges. Counties categorization as metropolitan and nonmetropolitan could be changed annually, mid-decade, and upon decennial delineations. This would negatively impact the ability to track changes over meaningful and standardized time periods, would result in areas at the nonmetropolitan-metropolitan interface in continuous flux, and make it highly problematic to use population data and metropolitan-nonmetropolitan designations to inform eligibility and allocation decisions required for effective public policy. Additionally, the time-tested approach to making metropolitan-nonmetropolitan designations using decennial census data is critical to have sufficient data and to have public trust in the meaning of the classifications.

To conclude, we want to reiterate what other social scientific colleagues have recommended. It would be more appropriate for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to consider and judge the merits of changes to metropolitan and nonmetropolitan thresholds and practices. This would entail greater input from diverse stakeholders and promote scientific integrity.


Kai Schafft, President RSS                            Dreamal Worthen, President-elect RSS

Keiko Tanaka, Past President RSS               John J. Green, Vice President RSS

Deborah Tootle, Secretary RSS                    

Cynthia B. Struthers, Executive Director/Treasurer


Revised 3.18.21