Saturday, November 1, 2014

Rural America's Missing Workers

01/10/2013

Every month we report the unemployment rates for rural and exurban counties and for the past several months, those rates have been going down. In November, the unemployment rates continued to edge down, especially in exurban counties.

(When you click on to the next page, you'll see a map of rural and exurban counties and their unemployment rates. Click on both of these maps to make them giant size.)

That's good news, and we'll get to that in a minute. But something else caught our eye as we were looking at the latest employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There were fewer people in the rural workforce this November than in November of 2011. 

Total workforce includes all those people who are either working or looking for work. In exurban counties, the workforce increased by 42,000 people since 2011. In urban counties, the workforce increased by more than 360,000. (Exurban counties are in metro regions, but most people who live there reside in rural settings.)

In rural counties, however, the workforce decreased by nearly 75,000 people. There were 75,000 fewer workers available in rural counties this November than in November of 2011. The map above shows where these losses took place.

This doesn't mean rural America lost jobs in the last year. In fact, rural counties had 133,000 more jobs this November than in November 2011.

What the BLS figures show is that rural America has fewer potential workers than it had a year ago — and that means it had fewer potential ways for local economies to grow.

It could mean that people are gone for good, that they've left the county. Or it could mean that people have given up looking for employment. If you aren't looking for a job, you aren't counted as being in the workforce.

The map above shows the counties that gained workers and those that lost workers in the last year. The brown counties report smaller workforces than a year ago.

The purple counties have larger workforces than a year ago — they have a combination of more employed and unemployed people.

The patterns are pretty apparent. Large areas of the West have lost workforce, while there have been gains in Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the Southeast.

Now, look below at the map of unemployment rates in November 2012 in rural and exurban counties. The green counties have unemployment rates at or below the national average of 7.4 percent in November. The red counties have rates above the national average — and the dark red counties have unemployment rates in the double digits.

rural employment and unemployment 2012

In the West, many of the counties with high unemployment are also the counties with shrinking workforces. In the Southeast, it's the opposite: Counties that have gained workforce have higher unemployment.

Again, the middle of the country (and Vermont and New Hampshire) have low unemployment in rural and exurban counties.

And here is a chart showing the trends of unemployment in rural, exurban and urban counties since before the recession began in December 2007.

rural employment and unemployment 2012