Rural Counties Added 300,000 Jobs in 2011

The unemployment rate in rural America dropped to its lowest level since December of 2008, as rural counties continued to add jobs. Job growth was particularly strong in the Southeast.

Two out of three rural counties have gained jobs since November 2010, according to a Daily Yonder analysis of federal employment data.

The more than 2,000 rural counties in the U.S. added just under 300,000 jobs between November 2010 and November 2011, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rural counties gained jobs at a pace even with the rest of the country in the last year.

The job gains have contributed to a steady lowering of the unemployment rate in rural America. Unemployment in rural counties stood at 8.1% in November, according to the BLS. That’s a lower rate than for any month since December 2008, when unemployment in rural counties stood at 7.6 percent. (The recession officially began one year earlier, in December 2007.)

The rural unemployment rate in November was higher than the 7.7 percent rate found in exurban counties. (Exurban counties are part of metropolitan regions, but have about half of their residents living in rural settings.) Unemployment in the cities stood at 8.3 percent in November. See the next page for a listing of unemployment rates in rural, urban and exurban counties in every state.

The map above shows the rural locations of those 300,000 jobs added in the last year. Red counties lost jobs. Green counties gained jobs. Click on the map to see a larger version.


Mississippi had the two rural counties that lost the most jobs during the year. Warren County (on the river in the central part of the state) had 1,587 fewer jobs this November than a year ago. And Jones County, in the south central part of Mississippi, lost 1,368 jobs in the last year.

The middle of the country, through the Great Plains, has had the lowest unemployment rates for most of this recession. Oil and gas drillers are still having a hard time finding engineers and workers in North Dakota. But, as you can see on the map, the middle of the country is a streak of red, showing job losses.

Often these losses came in counties with low unemployment rates. Beltrami County, Minnesota, for example, has lost 1,308 jobs, the third largest loss in rural America. But its unemployment rate in November 2011 was still only 7 percent.

The job gains came first in the oil and gas fields of North Dakota. Williams County, North Dakota, had an astounding 5,979 more jobs this November than a year ago. (Its unemployment rate is under 1 percent.) 

But the map shows that parts of the country that were hit hard by the recession were also those areas that showed a good job gain in the last year. Rural North Carolina, for example, gained more than 26,000 jobs in the last year. Rural Alabama picked up over 14,000 jobs. The entire rural southeast gained, with Georgia adding nearly 24,000 jobs in the last year. 

South Carolina gained nearly 8,000 rural jobs, but that still wasn’t enough to bring its rural unemployment rate below 11 percent. South Carolina, which has a presidential primary Saturday, January 21, had the second highest rural unemployment rate in the country, at 11.6 percent in November.

California had the highest rural and exurban unemployment rate in the country in November, with both over 12 percent. 

Once again, the Great Plains states had the lowest rural rates, followed closely by New Hampshire, which has its Republican primary today.

See the chart below for the rural, exurban and urban unemployment rates for all 50 states and Washington, D.C.


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