THE Government has been warned of a growing urban-rural divide which is being exacerbated by an ageing population.
And ministers were advised to prepare for a surge in those over the age of 85.
Country areas have been hit hard by emigration, leaving them short of young people to capitalise on an economic upturn, a report by the Social Justice Ireland says.
People outside the greater Dublin area are becoming increasingly dependent on welfare transfers.
The think-tank insisted that state intervention is necessary to prevent a two-tier digital divide developing between urban and rural areas.
The report maintains that small and medium-sized towns have seen unemployment increase by 193pc during the recession. The number of rural households where there is no-one working is 20pc greater than the national average, the report says.
Far more people in rural areas were penniless as the "at risk of poverty" rate in rural areas is higher than that in urban areas.
Social Justice Ireland (SJI) stressed that there is an urgent need to diversify the rural economy.
There needs to be a move from agricultural development to rural development.
Possible drivers of rural job creation include childcare, elder care, tourism, "green" products and cultural and creative industries.
The think-tank said the rural economy has been hindered by the loss of young people to emigration and it "will continue to struggle in any future upturn due to the lack of skilled workers and the corresponding emergence of an ageing population".
Director of SJI Sean Healy called for a rural broadband strategy as a matter of priority to help prevent a two-tier digital divided developing.
"You can't solve social housing overnight or put in rural broadband overnight, but unless steps are being taking people lose faith," he said.
The surge in the number of people over 85 will put huge pressure on healthcare services. "In the context of our past mistakes, it is important that Ireland begins to plan for this additional demand," said Fr Healy.