Alabama Is Bleeding Rural Jobs
No state has lost a higher percentage of its jobs since this recession began in December 2007 than Alabama. The state had 11% fewer jobs in October 2009 than it did in late 2007 — a larger decline than even battle-scarred Michigan.
The worst job declines in the nation during this recession have been in rural Alabama, which has 13.1% fewer jobs than when the recession began.
Nationally, rural America has fared better than urban or exurban counties in terms of job loss. Rural counties across the U.S. have lost 3.5% of their jobs. In the country as a whole, there were 4.5% fewer jobs in October of this year than in December 2007. In urban counties, job loss reached 4.7%.
National figures on job loss, however, miss the point. The face of this recession changes dramatically from place to place. In rural Utah, for example, there has been a nearly 5% increase in jobs in the last two years.
(A state by state chart of job losses and gains can be found on the next page. To download an Excel file with employment figures for December 2007 and October 2009 for all the nation’s counties, click here. And if that doesn't work, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The map above shows the percentage change in jobs since December 2007 in rural and exurban counties only. (To see a larger version of the map, click on the map or here.) The dark green counties had substantial job gains (more than 8%) over the last two years. The dark reddish-brown counties had the greatest (more than 12%) job losses.
Yellow counties are near the national average in job loss, somewhere between -4% and -5%. There are very few average (yellow) counties. Most places in the rural and exurban U.S. fall far from the average, many gaining jobs and many losing.
The hotspots for job loss are Michigan and, especially, Alabama. (Below, see the rural, urban and exurban job losses since December 2007 in each state.)
Both Michigan and Alabama are centers of automobile manufacturing. Michigan is the nation’s traditional auto making state, of course. But Alabama has become a top producer since 1993, when the first car plant, a Mercedes-Benz facility, announced it would open a car assembly plant in Tuscaloosa County.
A stream of other manufacturers (Honda, Hyundai, Toyota) and car part makers followed. Alabama now ranks fifth in the nation in car production, and in 2005 the state said the auto industry accounted for 44,834 direct jobs and nearly 80,000 indirect jobs. Southern Business and Development magazine named Alabama “State of the Year” for three years in a row.
Now, like Michigan, Alabama — especially rural Alabama — is suffering from the downturn in auto sales.
"When corporations look to reduce costs, branch offices and ancillary operations often bear the brunt of the ax," John Norris, an economist with Oakworth Capital Bank in Birmingham, told reporter Roy Williams of the Birmingham News. "In almost all recessions, manufacturing jobs get hit hard as demand slows. When you add the loss of corporate headquarters, reliance on manufacturing and low educational results, it isn't all that surprising Alabama would get hit hard during a full-blown, worldwide recession."
(Below are the fifty rural and exurban counties that lost the most jobs between the beginning of the recession in December 2007 and October 2009.)
Meanwhile, however, some parts of rural America have shown job gains. Rural Utah and Texas have registered gains in the last two years. Counties near military bases continue to show increases in employment.
The fifty rural counties with the largest increases in employment since the recession began are listed below. Remember, if you want to download a full Excel file of all county job counts for December 2007 and October 2009, click here.
(NOTE: The Yonder uses the Local Area Unemployment Statistics calculations for county employment. The LAUS data is different from the regular reports from the Bureau of Labor statistics. LAUS figures are unadjusted for seasonal changes. LAUS is the only government data released monthly showing employment by county. Their methods are explained here.)