Rural Job Recovery Varies by County Industry

Since the Great Recession of 2008, rural employment is down 4% using the latest annual reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hardest hit are counties where mining (including oil and natural gas production) predominates. Though still in the negative, manufacturing counties are closer to pre-recession levels than other nonmetro areas.

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Rural counties with economies that depend on mining and other fossil fuel extraction are having the toughest time restoring jobs that were lost during the Great Recession.  

Manufacturing-dominated counties have made the biggest comeback since the recession, but employment in those counties is still 2 points lower than it was 2008. 

These are a couple of the findings from the Daily Yonder’s quick analysis of employment in nonmetropolitan counties.  

We sorted nonmetropolitan counties using a USDA Economic Research Service system that categorizes counties by the type of industry that dominates their economy.  The categories are farming, mining (including oil and gas), manufacturing, government dependent, and recreation. A sixth category is “nonspecialized” – counties where no single industry dominates. 

For the jobs data, we used Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on average employment figures for each year from 2008 to 2016.

Counties where mining dominates (this includes coal and mineral mining, plus oil and gas production) took a nosedive in jobs from 2008 to 2010. (See the green line on the graph.) After a brief rebound, mining counties took another blow in 2015 and 2016.  

Mining counties had 11% fewer jobs in 2016 than they did in 2008 (that’s approximately 1.5 million jobs in 2008 compared to 1.3 million in 2016).  

The trajectory of job growth and decline in mining-dependent counties roughly follows the price of oil. That price peaked at about $150 a gallon in mid-2008 and had dropped to a third of that price by February 2009. As a result, oil jobs dried up as oil companies stopped production.  

The other story for mining counties has been coal industry troubles, which have been attributed to harder-to-reach coal reserves, competition from natural gas, and environmental regulation.  

Source: USDA Economic Research Service, Bureau of Labor Statistics

 

 

We hear a lot about the decline of rural manufacturing, but counties where that industry predominates actually fared better than the rest. Those counties lost about 2% of their overall employment for the period, dropping by approximately 100,000 jobs to 4.6 million from 2008 to 2016. Manufacturing counties also had more jobs than any other type of county except nonspecialized ones. One out of every four rural jobs is in a county dominated by manufacturing. Mining-dominated counties account for 7% of all nonmetropolitan employment.  

Counties where farming predominated (the red line in the top graph) held steadiest in employment throughout the recession and recovery. But farming counties don’t account for a lot of jobs compared to other types of counties. Farming counties account for only about 7% of overall rural employment.  

A third of all rural jobs are in “nonspecialized” counties.  

Manufacturing counties account for about a third of all rural employment. Government counties (where there are large numbers of federal and state workers) and recreation counties each account for 14% of overall rural employment. 

Manufacturing and recreation counties started adding jobs in 2011, along with the rest of the country. But farming and nonspecialized counties continued to shed jobs until 2013.  

Rural America still had 4% fewer jobs in 2016 than it did before the recession. 2016 is the most recent year for which we have the annualized figures. While more current monthly numbers on rural employment are available, we can’t directly compare monthly figures to annualized ones.   

 

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