Majority of Rural Counties Gains Jobs

Employment grew in August, compared to the previous year, for rural and urban areas. But energy-producing regions like the eastern coalfields and northern Great Plains have suffered.

The New York Times reported last month that a “sudden plunge in demand for commodities” was leading to slack business in oil, mining, farming, steel making, heavy equipment production — a slowdown in the sale of most things.

Rural America specializes in the production of real stuff. There have been layoffs, especially in coal mining, and the number of drilling rigs working in the oil and gas fields today is far below what it was just a year ago. In Texas, energy companies have cut 25,000 jobs this year; in North Dakota, there are 10,000 fewer jobs. Corn has fallen from $7.50 a bushel three years ago to $3.78, according to the newspaper.

Employment2014-2015
Click the map for an interactive version.

This decline has cut employment in parts of rural America, as the map above shows. The counties in red have fewer jobs this August than in August 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are large swaths of red in the oil and gas areas from Texas to the Dakotas and in the eastern coalfields.

But overall, the monthly labor figures show that rural America continued to add jobs over the last year. The rate of employment increase is only about half that of the cities. But the jobs keep coming and the unemployment rate in rural counties continues to decline.

Rural counties added 158,000 jobs between August 2014 and August of this year, which is the last month where data is available. Urban counties gained nearly 2.13 million jobs.

In August, the unemployment rate in metropolitan counties was 5.2 percent. In rural counties, it was 5.4 percent. Both rates are about a full percentage point lower than August of 2014.

The map above shows all the counties in the United States. Those colored orange are urban counties that lost jobs between August of last year and August 2015. Blue counties are urban areas that gained jobs.

Rural counties that lost jobs are red. Rural counties that gained jobs are green.

Nearly four out of 10 rural counties lost jobs in the last year. Only two in 10 urban counties lost jobs.

You can find the particulars for every county by clicking on the “live” map. Then click on any county and the data should appear.

Here are some of the things we noticed in this latest jobs report:

  • The big job losers in rural America come from all over. The five rural counties that have lost more than a thousand jobs in the last year are Wood County, Wisconsin (-4,402); Ward County, North Dakota (-1,950); Kennebec County, Maine (-1,227); Henry County, Virginia (-1,035); and Uintah County, Utah (-1,012).
  • Similarly, the big job gainers in rural America span the country. Bozeman County, Montana, gained 2,358 jobs in the last year; Lee County, Mississippi, added 2,342 jobs; Allegan County, Michigan, added 2,078 jobs; and Litchfield County, Connecticut, gained 2,060 jobs.
  • There are still strong regional patterns of job gains and losses. Kentucky and the eastern coalfield counties lost. So did much of the Great Plains and oil field counties from Texas to North Dakota. Rural Maine lost jobs. Florida and the South, the Mountain West and the farm belt of the Midwest gained.
  • What’s going on in the extreme southwest part of the country, along the border of Arizona and California? Yuma County, Arizona, (a metro county) has an unemployment rate that is just under 37 percent. And just across the border in California, Imperial County has a 31 percent unemployment rate.

Check your county and region. Let us know in comments what’s happening in your area — and why.

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