Rural Unemployment Heads Downward
The unemployment rate in rural America continued to decline in October, dropping to 8.3 percent, according to data released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The unemployment rate among those who live in rural counties was below the national rate of 8.5 percent and the 8.6 percent rate in urban counties.
Exurban counties continued to have the lowest unemployment rates. Exurban counties, located on the edge of metropolitan areas — half city, half rural — had a combined unemployment rate of 8 percent in October.
The unemployment rate in rural counties has been falling since June, according to the BLS, when it stood at 9.2 percent. The rural rate peaked in January 2010, when it reached 11.2 percent.
(The BLS county unemployment data is calculated differently from the national unemployment rate that is announced each month. One difference is that unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted, which is why we compare figures from one October to another.)
The map above shows unemployment in rural America in October of this year. Purple counties have unemployment rates that were at or lower than the national average. Orangish counties are those with unemployment rates in October that were above the national average.
(Click on the map to see a larger version.)
The regional differences in employment are apparent. The Southeast and the West continue to have high unemployment rates while New England and the Great plains and Mountain West states have better employment statistics than the nation as a whole.
The national rate for rural unemployment mask marked differences from region to region.
The 60 rural counties with the lowest unemployment rates are clustered in just a handful of Great Plains states.
Of this low unemployment group of counties (all with rates under 2.8 percent), 25 were in Nebraska and 27 were in North Dakota.
The rural counties with lower unemployment rates in October have been the places that have been adding jobs. Rural America has added nearly 130,000 jobs since October 2010. But 7 out of ten of those new jobs were created in the counties with unemployment rates below the national average.
Here are the 50 rural counties that have gained the most jobs from October 2010 to October 2011.
The rural counties that lost jobs are scattered across the country. Athens County, Ohio, has lost more than 2,800 jobs in the last year — and kids in the area are asking Santa to bring their parents jobs for Christmas, according to a report on National Public Radio.
Louisiana has the most counties (10) on the list of the 50 rural counties that lost the most jobs in the past year.
Bill Bishop is co-editor of The Daily Yonder. Roberto Gallardo is a research associate at the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University.