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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Homelessness is on the rise in many of America's biggest and most expensive cities — but it's a growing problem in rural areas, too.

Why it matters: People experiencing homelessness are often harder to count in rural areas and they have a harder time accessing support programs in small towns with fewer resources.

The big picture: Homelessness in the U.S. has risen for a third consecutive year, driven by a spike in California, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said in December.

Jobs continue to shift to cities — making life harder for people already struggling to find work and affordable housing.

"The long-term trend is that people are leaving rural areas and moving to cities. In rural areas there are fewer jobs and less income. It's not necessarily that housing options are so expensive, it's that job opportunities simply aren't there."
— Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness

By the numbers: One-third of rural Americans say homelessness is a problem in their community, according to a May poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Homelessness is often more hidden in rural areas than in cities.

  • Small towns are less likely to have stable shelters, so people are more likely to double up with friends or sleep on family members' couches. That also makes it harder to be counted during annual data collections.

"In rural communities, there's not a typical place where people experiencing homelessness might gather, such as a food pantry, soup kitchen or public library — places in urban areas where you might be able to see people more easily," said Shaye Rabold of the Kentucky Housing Corporation. "People are dispersed over large geographic areas."

Zooming in: Overall, 4,079 homeless people were counted in Kentucky in a 2019 national survey, the last single-night survey of homeless people for which data is available. That's a 10.6% increase over the January 2018 national count, per HUD data.

  • Kentucky's major metro areas — Louisville and Lexington — both saw around a 15% increase in homeless population between 2018 and 2019.
  • The rest of the state, which is mostly rural, saw a 6.9% increase.

Eastern Kentucky has been hit hard by the loss of coal mining jobs and a dwindling number of service-sector jobs.

  • Even in areas where there are jobs, there's very little public transportation for people living in spread-out rural counties to get to work.

"You may be living in a particular community but the job is a county over and there's no way to get there," Rabold said. "But even if you have an education, even if you have transportation, there just aren't enough jobs to go around."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Getty Images

The state of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Thursday in an attempt to block the enforcement of its vaccine mandate for federal employees.

Why it matters: The move comes one day after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denied Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's (R) request to exempt the state's National Guard from the mandate.

Congress passes stopgap funding bill to avert shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Senate voted 69-28 to pass legislation Thursday night to fund the government until February 18.

Why it matters: The move staves off a government shutdown but lawmakers still have a busy month ahead: Congress needs to work out a deal to raise the debt ceiling in a few weeks and Democrats are trying to pass their behemoth social spending bill.

DiDi to delist from NYSE under Chinese govt pressure

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chinese ride-hail giant DiDi said it will delist from the New York Stock Exchange, following a Chinese government crackdown on foreign listings.

Why it matters: This reflects how geopolitical tensions are bleeding into the capital markets.