How Tech Jobs Can Bring Prosperity to Rural Communities

May 16, 2024

Bringing tech jobs to rural areas increases access to information, education and economic opportunities.

With higher wages and growth potential, tech jobs can bring prosperity to rural economies. But many rural workers face a trifecta of barriers to access: limited broadband availability, a shortage of skills training and a heavy reliance on industries vulnerable to automation.

In a tech-centric economy, bridging this digital divide, especially for older workers, is crucial to ensure that rural communities can thrive.

Understanding rural workers’ challenges: By the numbers

Rural areas face barriers to high-tech jobs.

From age to poverty to education, workers in rural areas face unique obstacles to finding employment opportunities in tech.

Rural workers are aging.

  • Approximately 46 million people—roughly 16% of the U.S. population—currently live in rural areas.
  • 20% of people who live in rural areas are aged 65 years or older, compared to 16% in metro areas.
  • Older workers in rural communities face employment challenges due to population decline, lack of broadband access and limited housing availability.

Rural workers face persistent poverty.

  • About 80% of counties with long-term, persistent poverty are rural.
  • In approximately 25% of those counties, people of color make up a higher share.

Rural workers have less earning power.

  • A rural worker earns less than an urban counterpart with similar education and job title.
  • As of 2019, 44% of adults aged 25 – 34 in major cities held a bachelor’s degree or higher. In rural areas, it was 25%. Education is associated with higher salaries and better health.
  • Median earnings for rural male and female workers who worked full time, year-round were about $47,000 and $35,000 compared with $50,000 and $40,000 for urban male and female workers.

Tech jobs in rural areas: By the numbers

Rural workers employed in tech enjoy higher wages, which benefits the local economy.

Rural workers in tech earn more.

  • Rural workers in tech-centric jobs earned an average of $78,843 in 2022. Between 2022 – 2032, these occupations are projected to have the second-fasted growth of all occupation groups.
  • Software developers earn an average of $38/hour—more than twice the median hourly wage of $14.68 for the average rural worker.

Rural workers are underrepresented in the tech industry.

  • Rural workers make up only a small percentage of the tech workforce—about 5%.
  • Rural employment is still disproportionately composed of jobs reliant on tradable goods, industries like natural resource extraction, large-scale agriculture and manufacturing—all of which are impacted by automation.

How can workers in rural areas access tech jobs?

Tech jobs provide economic opportunity that meets the unique needs of job seekers in rural communities. There are two promising ways to connect to high-paying tech positions.

Expand broadband access

Expanded broadband access is critical to bridging the digital divide.

Today, nearly 22 million (42%) older Americans do not have broadband access at home. Older Black and Latino adults are 2.5 and 3.3 times more likely to lack this vital service.

Unfortunately, internet providers have no financial incentive to expand broadband into rural areas. But without reliable, affordable internet, rural communities face limited economic opportunities. Lack of broadband also exacerbates the lack of access to education, healthcare, entrepreneurship and many other services.

Several strategies have been deployed to ensure everyone can access the internet reliably and affordably. The 2021 Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, for example, provides $42.45 billion in grants to states to expand high-speed internet access.

Provide digital literacy training

Bridging the digital divide requires resources and support for digital skills training programs. There are various opportunities to advance digital literacy.

Bridging the digital divide

Tech jobs are a gateway to upward mobility. For rural workers and their communities to prosper, it’s essential to bridge the digital divide—to bring broadband service, equipment and skills training needed to work and thrive in today’s digital world.