Rural unemployment rose again in February even as job losses slowed across most of rural America.
Job losses in rural America slowed to a trickle in February, but unemployment increased as more people reported that they were looking for work. The unemployment rate in rural counties jumped to 9.8% in February, well above the rates for both exurban counties (9.2%) and urban counties (8.7%).
There are two factors to employment figures — the number of jobs and the number of people looking for work. In some months, the unemployment rate goes up because there have been large layoffs and the number of jobs decrease. In February, the rate went up because the number of people looking for work increased.
The map above shows the unemployment rates of all rural and exurban counties (urban counties appear in white). Brown-to-red counties have rates above the national average. (Red counties have unemployment rates over 20%.) Green counties have unemployment rates below the national average. If you want to see a larger format version of this map, click here.
As recently as October 2008, the unemployment rate in rural America was lower than the rate in urban counties. Exurban unemployment was lower than that in the cities in November. Since then, unemployment has risen steadily outside urban areas, and now both rural and exurban America have significantly higher percentages of people looking for work.
The most dramatic change in the employment picture in February was the slowdown in the nation’s loss of jobs. In January, rural counties in the U.S. lost 600,000 jobs. In February, those same counties lost only 3,308 jobs.
Below you can see a map showing the change in unemployment rates since the beginning of this year. The darker the red, the greater the increase in the county’s unemployment rate. Blue counties have had improving job pictures this year: local unemployment rates have decreased. Most of the counties where unemployment is decreasing can be found in Louisiana or in the Great Plains. A larger version of this map can be found here.
Rural Oregon has been particularly hard hit in this recession. The Bend Bulletin’s Lily Raff wrote about Harney County in southeast Oregon. (Harney County is dark red in both of the maps above.) Thirty years ago, Harney County had the highest average personal income in Oregon. In the 1970s, logging paid grand wages. But as that industry failed, nothing replaced those jobs, Raff found. Factories that moved in have since closed. Harney County has had the lowest wages in Oregon for more than a decade, and unemployment there now tops 20%.
People are supplying the local food bank for those in need. That’s a good thing, since now 80 families a week come in for supplies rather than the usual three. When a motor coach factory closed last month, County Judge Steven Grasty told Raff, “The bars and taverns fill up. The jail fills up. There are more arrests for spousal and child abuse. There are more demands on mental health services. You go into the stores and you can feel it … immediately. It’s tearing this community apart.”
Still, people hang in and hang on. “We’re survivors and we’re going to be fine,” said one real estate broker. “The people that live here, for the most part, they don’t live here because they’ve got a great job. They’d rather live here and be poor than live somewhere else and be rich.”
Employment figures for urban counties aren’t shown in the maps above. But metro counties lost over two million jobs in January. In February, however, those same counties lost just over 300,000 jobs. Exurban counties dropped 321,000 jobs in January, but only 19,000 in February.
Of the nearly 6 million jobs that have been lost across the nation since last April, only about six percent were lost in February.
Even though the gusher of jobs losses has slowed, unemployment rose sharply in February. Quite simply, more people are looking for work.
The number of unemployed — that is, people who say they are seeking a job — jumped in rural counties by more than 108,000 in February, and by 690,000 nationally. As shown in the chart above, rural counties had lower unemployment rates than urban counties in the fall of 2008. Since, then, however, the number of unemployed has increased faster in rural areas than in the cities.
Since the recession began in December 2007, the number of unemployed people in rural America has increased by 1.1 million. In exurban counties, the number of unemployed is up by 600,000 in the same period. And nationally, there has been an increase in the number of people looking for work of more than 6.3 million people.
Below is a list of the fifty rural counties that have lost the most jobs since the recession began in December 2007. North Carolina counties fill the list. That state has been among the best at recruiting manufacturing firms to rural areas. But during this recession, these rural manufacturers have been hard hit. And rural counties that have high concentrations of manufacturing jobs have lost the most jobs.
Below that chart is a list of the fifty exurban counties that have lost the most jobs since the beginning of this recession. To see a map of rural, urban and exurban counties, go here.
Here are the fifty exurban counties that have lost the most jobs since December 2007: