Unemployment across rural America jumped to 9.4% in January, far higher than the 8.25% rate in the nation’s cities. The number of jobs lost in rural areas continued to outpace employment declines in urban areas.
In December, the rural unemployment rate was 7.6%. Rural unemployment increased by more than 23% in January. Urban unemployment in December was 7%.
Rural counties lost 646,468 jobs in January, according to figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In December, rural America lost 286,458 jobs.
Exurban counties had an unemployment rate of 8.7% in January, a 23% jump over the December rate of 7.1%. (To see a map showing which counties are urban, exurban and rural, go to this page.)
Job losses increased across the country as one moved from the cities to the countryside.
The job losses were particularly severe in rural North Carolina. The state’s rural communities lost 87,000 jobs in January alone, and the unemployment rate in rural North Carolina topped 12%. Wisconsin shed the next largest number of rural jobs (49,000), followed by Pennsylvania (36,000), Texas (34,000) and Michigan (32,000).
See the chart below for state rural job loss totals in January and January unemployment rates.
Rural counties in 29 states had unemployment rates in January greater than the national average of 8.48%. Seventeen states had rural unemployment rates in the double digits. South Carolina and Michigan had the highest rates in January. Both had rural unemployment rates topping 14%.
The map above shows a clear national division in unemployment. Rural areas east of the Mississippi and west of the Rocky Mountains have higher unemployment than in the Great Plains or Mountain states. To see a high-resolution version of this map, go here.
The states with the lowest rural unemployment rates in January were Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Kansas, New Hampshire and North Dakota. One bond rating firm recently upgraded the debt issued by North Dakota, even as it downgraded bonds issued by California and Illinois.
“Isn’t it crazy?” said Pam Sharp, North Dakota’s budget director, in a telephone interview with Reuters. “People are still making money here; income growth is up,” she added. What sets North Dakota apart from other states according to Sharp is an economy that has been diversified beyond the energy and agricultural sectors, a stable housing market that did not take a hit from the subprime mortgage crisis and conservative financial management, Reuters reported.
But there was a dropoff in employment across the board in rural America in January. Only two states — Louisiana and Virginia — showed an increase in rural employment in January. See chart below:
The numbers looked slightly better in exurban counties. Exurban counties in ten states had double digit unemployment rates, led by Oregon’s 13.9% rate. Michigan’s exurban unemployment rate was 12.7%. The two exurban counties that have lost the most jobs since January of last year are in Michigan. To see how exurban counties in each state fared, go here.
Unemployment in North Carolina grew particularly severe in January. Layoffs in manufacturing and construction spread across the state. North and South Carolina tied for the country’s largest jump in unemployment over the previous year in January. South Carolina recorded its highest January unemployment rate in 26 years. Not surprisingly, North Carolina leads the nation in the growth of those people without health insurance since 2007.
Nineteen of the 50 rural counties with the largest job losses since January 2008 were in North Carolina. Below is a chart showing the 50 rural counties with the largest job losses from January 2008 to January of this year.
To see the exurban counties that suffered the greatest job losses, go to this page.
The figures and the map above tells dozens of stories. Rural Delaware has been particularly hard hit over the past few months. Parts of rural Michigan have unemployment rates that rival Detroit.
Rural employment tends to peak in the summer. In the summer of 2008, rural employment soared above that in the cities. But in the last few months, rural employment has plunged below that of the cities. See chart below to see the net change in employment since the recession began in December 2007.