Job Loss Returns to Rural U.S.

Nonmetropolitan counties lost 330,000 jobs from January 2014 to January 2015, reversing a year of economic improvement for rural America. In the same period, metropolitan counties added 3.1 million jobs.

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For most of the last year, the number of jobs in rural America kept increasing.

That trend turned around in January, however. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that rural counties lost over 330,000 jobs between January 2014 and January of this year.

Rural counties had been showing steady economic improvement over the last year or more. All of our year-to-year reports for 2014 showed rural counties making job gains.

For example, from February 2013 to February 2014, rural counties gained 140,000 jobs. (Comparing the same month from two different years takes out any seasonal impact that may be affecting job growth.)

From October 2013 to October 2014, those counties had a gain of 428,000 jobs.

November 2013 to 2014 showed similar gains.

When we checked again in January, however, the year-to-year gains in jobs had stopped. And job losses had begun.

Rural counties had 331,000 fewer jobs this January than in January of 2014.

Metropolitan counties, meanwhile, gained more than 3.1 million jobs.

The map above shows job losses and gains by county between January 2015 and January 2014.

Urban counties that gained jobs are in blue. Urban counties that lost jobs are colored orange.

Rural counties that gained jobs are green. Rural counties that lost jobs between January 2014 and January this year are red.

Click on the map to make it interactive. Then, if you click on a county, you can get all the relevant employment information, including the number of jobs now, the number of jobs lost or gained and the unemployment rate for January 2015.

For most of last year, there was little difference in the rural and urban unemployment rate. In October of last year, the 5.5 percent unemployment rate in the most rural counties was below that of the cities.

Not so in January. The most rural counties — those with no town larger than 10,000 people — had an unemployment rate of 7 percent. Urban counties had 6 percent unemployment rates.

Moreover, rural counties are losing their workforce. (Workforce includes both those who are employed and those looking for work.) The workforce in all rural counties dropped by 557,000 people between January 2014 and January of this year, a situation that can only contribute to continued rural population loss.

For a hint of what might have happened in the last year, click on Williams County, North Dakota, in the far western part of that state and in the center of the Dakota oil field boom.

In the last year, Williams County has lost nearly 4,000 jobs. Unemployment there is still only 1.6 percent, but this is a section of rural America that has been adding thousands of jobs over the last few years. Now those gains have turned to losses.

A precipitous drop in oil prices has reduced the drilling activity across the country. There are simply fewer oil and gas trucks on the road, fewer rigs working and fewer people employed.

Carter County, Oklahoma, an oil pipeline hub, has lost over 6,000 jobs in the last year. Counties all over the oil and gas shale belt show job losses, from Greene County, Pennsylvania, to Delta County, Colorado.

Job losses have continued in the eastern coalfields. (Pike County, Kentucky, has lost 2,000 jobs in the last year.) And there are weaknesses in unexpected areas. For instance, Monroe County, Florida (home of Key West), has lost over 5,000 jobs.

Do some clicking on the map and tell us what might be happening in your hometown.

(Our definition of rural in this case is nonmetropolitan counties. Nonmetropolitan counties are ones that don't have any cities of 50,000 residents or greater and don’t have strong economic ties to a nearby county that does.)

 

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