Are There Jobs? It Depends

There are jobs in rural America. But people are stuck in high unemployment areas because they can't sell their houses.

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Six out of ten rural counties had unemployment rates lower than the national average in July, according to data released late last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And unemployment in rural America was lower than the national average for the third straight month.

Nationally, the unemployment rate stood at 9.75% in July, according to the BLS’s county-by-county listing of jobs and job-seekers. The rural rate of unemployment in July was 9.5%. The unemployment rate in exurban counties — counties near metro areas — was 9.1%.

To download an Excel file with July employment figures for all counties, click here. July is the latest month for this data.

Hardly any part of rural America is “average,” however. The rates swing wildly from region to region, ranging from 24% in one Michigan county to one percent in communities in Alaska and the Dakotas.

The map above shows all rural counties. Purple counties have unemployment rates above the national average of 9.75%. (To see a larger version of the map, click on it.)

The highest unemployment rates are the dark purple counties — with the highest unemployment found in Baraga County, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The green counties have unemployment rates lower than the national average. The dark green counties have the best job picture. The lowest unemployment rates among the Lower 48 states can be found in North and South Dakota. (To see the fifty rural counties with the highest and lowest unemployment rates in July, scroll down.)

The unemployment picture in rural America continues along familiar lines. The Great Plains states are doing well. So are Vermont, New Hampshire and the Mountain West.[img:July2010UER.jpg]

The Southeast, Appalachia, Michigan, Nevada and the Pacific Coast continue to show high unemployment. This has been the pattern since the recession began in late 2007.

Only 405 out of 2,038 rural counties — fewer than one in five — are within one percentage point of the national average unemployment rate. In this economy, “average” doesn’t mean much. Location tells more about an economy than anything else. Alabama and the rest of the Southeast can’t shake high unemployment rates while North Dakota searches for workers.

States that had a large portion of their workers employed in construction and manufacturing — such as Michigan, Nevada, California and Florida — have been hit worst. Farm states and counties with significant oil and gas production have low unemployment rates.

In Michigan, there are 8.24 unemployed workers for each job posted online, according to a recent study by Juju.com, a job search site. In Nebraska and North Dakota, there are fewer than two unemployed people for each job opening. 

This imbalance is exacerbated by the balky housing market. Simply, people are unable to move  where the jobs are because they can’t sell their houses. 

“Four years ago, you might have been working in construction in Nevada and overpaid for your house,” writes Annie Lowrey in the Washington Independent. “Today, you’re likely out of a job and, worse, can’t move to a state like North Dakota because you can’t sell the property.” 

“The lack of mobility contributes to large disparities among state unemployment rates,” Jon Hilsenrath writes in the Wall Street Journal. “In North Dakota, unemployment is 3.6%. In Nevada, it is more than 10 percentage points higher. Before the recession, by contrast, the gap between the states with the highest and lowest unemployment rates was 4.4 percentage points.”

The question is whether the rest of America will come to look more like the Dakotas — or whether the job-rich Plains states will begin to resemble Mississippi and Florida.

Ernest Goss’s Mainstreet Economy Index regularly polls bankers across rural communities in 10 Plains and Midwest states. In his latest report, released August 19th, Goss finds his index slipping. “Much like the nation, bank CEOs are tracking significant pullbacks in economic activity,” Goss reported.

Four in ten bankers said they expected the nation to slip back into recession in 2011. 

The states in the Index — Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Wyoming — have lost 3.5% of their jobs in the last year, according to Goss, even though these states have some of the strongest economies in the nation. 

The new home sales in these rural communities also declined for the second straight month. 

Below are the 50 rural counties with the lowest unemployment rates.[img:50highJuly.gif]

These are the 50 rural counties with the highest unemployment rates.[img:lowestjuly.gif]

Roberto Gallardo is a research associate at the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University.

 

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