Rural Unemployment (Barely) Below 8%

The unemployment rates in rural and exurban counties are much lower than they were a year ago. But the number of jobs in rural counties hasn't grown.

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The unemployment rate in rural and exurban counties turned down in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

In rural counties, the unemployment rate in August barely nudged under 8 percent, at 7.99 percent. In exurban counties, the rate dove to 7.6 percent. (Exurban counties lie within metropolitan regions, but half the people who live there reside in rural settings.)

Both of these rates are down from July, 2012, when the rural rate was 8.4 percent and the exurban rate was 8 percent.

The unemployment rate in urban counties fell from 8.6 percent in July to 8.3 percent in August.

Unemployment rates have improved across rural America in the last year. The map above shows the changes in unemployment rates in rural and exurban counties from August 2011 to August 2012. (Click on the map to see a larger version.)

Blue counties saw their unemployment rates decline in those 12 months. (Light blue counties declined the most, more than 1.5 percentage points.) Orange counties experienced an increase in their unemployment rates during this period.

Nearly nine out of 10 rural counties (86 percent) have reported lower unemployment rates this year than in 2011.

Just because unemployment rates are lower, however, doesn’t mean that there’s been a boom in rural employment. There hasn’t been.

In fact, there are slightly fewer people employed in rural counties this August than in August 2011. According to BLS data released late last week, the number of jobs in rural counties has declined by nearly 3,200 in the last year.

The unemployment rate has dropped in rural America because the workforce — total number of people working or looking for work — has declined by nearly 228,000 people. 

The workforce totals increased in both exurban and urban counties (though not by much).

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As always, there are distinct regional patterns in these unemployment figures. Below are the 50 rural and exurban counties that had the largest increases in unemployment rates.

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There is a distinctively coalfield cast to the counties on this list. The Kentucky and West Virginia counties on this list are in the heart of the Appalachian coalfields.

The counties below had the largest decreases in their unemployment rates over the last year. Here the word that comes to mind most often is “Mississippi.” 

Almost half of the 50 rural and exurban counties (23) with the largest declines in local unemployment rates in the last year are in Mississippi.

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