WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says the U.S. economy overall is strong but many rural areas are falling farther behind.

Powell says unemployment in the poorest rural countries is more than double the national average last year, while those employed or looking for jobs in their prime working years has increasingly lagged during the current expansion.

To address this problem, Powell says the Fed is supporting a number of initiatives ranging from sponsoring regional forums to spur rural economic development to supporting efforts to advance internet access in low-income rural areas.

In comments Thursday to a rural housing conference, Powell says the Fed is committed to pursuing ways to ensure that the current economic upturn benefits areas that have been left behind.

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