Low Unemployment in Most Rural Counties

Unemployment rates in six out of ten rural counties fell below the national average in August, 2011.

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Unemployment in rural America continued to edge down in August, staying below both the national average and the average for urban counties.

The unemployment rate in all rural counties dropped to 8.8% in August, from 9.1% in July. 

In August 2010, the rural unemployment rate was 9.2%.

The urban unemployment rate was 9.2% in August of this year and in exurban counties, the rate was 8.5%. (Exurban counties belong to metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), but have about half their population living in rural settings.)

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More than 6 out of ten rural counties had August unemployment rates below the national average of 9.1%. The map above shows all 2,027 rural counties. Purple counties had unemployment rates below the national average in August. Counties in yellowish-green had unemployment rates above the national average.

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

The pattern here should be familiar to Yonder readers. The rural counties in the middle of the country, from the Mountain West to the Iowa plains, and New England have relatively low unemployment rates. The rural South and the West Coast have high unemployment rates. This pattern has remained unchanged for the past several years.

Below is a chart showing the rural, urban and exurban unemployment rates in every state. There are a dozen states with rural unemployment rates above 10 percent. All but one of those states — Michigan — can be found in either the Southeast or the West.

There are five states with unemployment rates under 5 percent: South Dakota, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Nebraska and North Dakota — states in the Great Plains or New England.

Exurban counties with high unemployment follow much the same pattern. Leading the way are Nevada, California, Oregon, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Georgia and Michigan.

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The New York Times published a story in late September noting that the previously high-flying Sunbelt is now the center of joblessness. People are having to rethink the nation’s economic geography now that there has been a kind of regional role reversal. 

“Because the recovery is so painfully slow, people may begin to think of the trends established during the recovery as normal,” said Howard Wial, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program who recently co-wrote an economic analysis of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. “Will people think of Florida, California, Nevada and Arizona as more or less permanently depressed? Think of the Great Lakes as being a renaissance region? I don’t know. It’s possible.”

One of the factors driving the change is migration. The Yonder has noted before that unemployment is low in the Great Plains states in part because of outmigration. Fewer people, fewer to be unemployed.

High unemployment in the Sun Belt is a result of more people moving in.

“For a long time we tended to outpace the national average with regard to economic performance, and a lot of that was driven by, for lack of a better word, development and in-migration,” Michael Chriszt, an assistant vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s research department told the Times. “That came to an abrupt halt, and it has not picked up.”

 

 

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