Rural Unemployment Continues Down
Unemployment in rural America continues to drop. In April, the average unemployment rate in the more than 2,000 rural counties dipped to 7.7 percent.
And the unemployment rate in exurban counties — counties near metro areas but largely rural in character — declined to 7.2 percent.
Both rural and exurban counties had average unemployment rates that were below the average for metropolitan counties, which was 7.8 percent in April.
The figures on county unemployment were just released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Unemployment in rural and exurban counties has dropped a full percentage point since April 2011. The rate then was 8.7 percent in rural counties and 8.3 percent in exurban counties.
The map above shows the change in unemployment rates between April 2011 and April 2012. Green counties are the rural and exurban communities that reported decreases in the unemployment rate greater than the national average. Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped a little less than one percentage point, so the green counties above saw their rates drop more than that amount.
(To see a larger version of the map, click on it.)
The purple counties did less well. The light purple counties saw their unemployment rates drop, but less than the national average. In the dark purple counties, unemployment rates in April of this year were higher than rates in April 2011.
Remember, the map does not show absolute unemployment rates. North Dakota has exceptionally low unemployment rates, for example. But in this map, much of the state is dark purple, showing increasing unemployment rates because some counties with very low rates saw an uptick in unemployment.
Steele County, North Dakota, for example, had an unemployment rate of only 3.2 percent this April. But because this was a point higher than last year, Steele shows up on the map as purple.
Fulton County, on the Mississippi River in Western Kentucky, meanwhile, saw its unemployment rate jump from 13 percent last year to 20.5 percent this April, a 7.5 point increase, the largest increase in the nation.
In other words, the map shows whether the employment situation in a community is improving or getting worse. And that is particularly important in an election year.
Political scientists have found that the absolute unemployment rate is not as important as the trends in the year before the election. If unemployment rates are getting lower — even if they are still relatively high — people feel better about the economy.
If that's true, then rural voters in the swing states of Wisconsin, Nevada, Ohio, Missouri and New Mexico should be feeling better about their economic prospects. Voters in rural Colorado, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington might not be as happy. Other swing states (North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa) can't point to much change in the last year.
There are 115,831 more jobs in rural counties this April than there were a year ago. That's an increase of just one half of one percent.
Jobs in exurban counties have increased one percent (125,600 jobs).
In the U.S. as a whole, there are 1,547,522 more jobs this April than in April 2011, an increase of just over one percent.
Below are the fifty rural and exurban counties that had the most improvement in their local unemployment rates since April of 2011.