Finding High, Low Pay in Rural America

Wages in rural America are significantly lower than those in urban counties — and the gap has grown since 2001.

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Rural workers earn wages that are, on average, only three-quarters the scale of the national average.

The average rural wage has risen over the past decade, from $25,964 in 2001 to $33,513 in 2009. When inflation is calculated, it means that rural wages rose 7.5% between 2001 and 2009.

Still, the average rural worker only earns 74% of the average urban worker. In 2009, the average wage in urban America was $48,710.

The disparity between rural and urban wages is growing.  In 2001, urban wages were $12,450 higher than rural wages. 

By 2009, the difference between the average rural and urban wage was $14,900.

Exurban wages were only slightly higher than rural wages.

We are comparing average total compensation per job. The data comes from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  These figures contain any monetary remuneration of employees — including commissions, bonuses, tips and incentive pay as well as wages and salaries. The average wage is calculated before deductions, such as Social Security or union dues.

The map above shows how the average wage varies across rural America. Dark pink counties have average wages above the national average of $45,831.

(Click on the map to see a larger version — or click here.)

Only 37 rural counties, with fewer than three percent of all rural workers, have average wages higher than the national average.

The lighter pink counties have average wages that fall below the national average but above the rural average of $33,800.

[img:Wages2009.jpg]The green and brown counties all have wages that fall below the rural average. About two-thirds of rural workers are employed in counties where the average wage is less than the national rural average.

The dark brown counties have average wages under $30,000 a year.

High rural wages are concentrated in New England, North Dakota and the West.

The Great Plains, the Delta, Appalachia and the Ozarks and the South all have low average wages. Appalachian coal counties are an exception. Wages there are higher than average.

Energy-producing counties have particularly high average wages. Wages on the North Slope in Alaska are the highest in rural America; at $85,114, the average wage there is four times the average wage in Worth County, Missouri, which has the lowest average wages in the nation.

Rural counties have 13% of the nation’s workers, according to the BEA, but only 10% of the nation’s salaries.

Here are the 50 rural counties with the highest average wages.

[img:wages09high.gif]

Here are the 50 rural counties with the lowest average wages.

[img:wages09Low.gif]

 

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