Rural Unemployment High, But Losses Moderated in May

Unemployment is still higher in rural American than in the cities. But the jobs picture changes from state to state, region to region.

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Since May of 2008, rural America has lost a smaller proportion of its jobs than urban or exurban regions.

Rural counties have 3% fewer jobs this May than they did in 2008. Both urban and exurban counties have lost close to 4% of their jobs during this same period.

Unemployment continued to be higher in rural counties than in urban and exurban ones in May, but those job losses were concentrated in a few states. In much of rural America, unemployment rates were at or below the national average.

(Tomorrow, the Yonder will show the individual rural and exurban counties that have either lost or gained the most jobs in the last year.)

Unemployment in the rural counties topped 10 percent in ten states in May, the last month where county employment figures were available. (See a chart with all the states below.) 

In broad parts of rural America, however, unemployment rates are well below the national average. In the map above, the green portions of the country show rural counties with unemployment rates below the national average. Rural America is candy striped, with rural unemployment high on the West Coast, low in the Mountain West and the Great Plains, high in the Mid-West and South and then low again along the East Coast. 

South Carolina had the highest rural unemployment rate in the country in May, at 15.2%. Michigan followed, with a 14.2% unemployment rate in its rural counties. Oregon stood at 13.4%; Tennessee at 12.8%; California at 12.5%; Indiana at 12.4%; North Carolina at 12.2%; Ohio at 12%; Kentucky at 11.3%; Mississippi at 11.1%; Alabama at 10.9%; Georgia at 10.4%; and Nevada and Washington State at 10.1%.

Rural unemployment has increased the most since May 2008 in Oregon (up 6.9 points to 13.4%) and Indiana (up 6.8 percentage points to 12.4%).

(The rates in this story, in the map above and the charts are not seasonally adjusted.)

In 18% of the nation’s 2,048 rural counties, there are more jobs in May of this year than a year ago. Only 5% of exurban counties and 3.7% of urban counties showed job increases from a year ago.

As in past surveys of jobs data, the Daily Yonder finds that the Great Plains states continue to show remarkably low unemployment rates. The unemployment rate in rural Nebraska was 4.1% in May. It was 4.2% in North Dakota, and 5% in Wyoming and South Dakota.

Below is a chart showing the unemployment rates in each state in May 2009. And the chart shows the rural, urban and exurban unemployment rates within each state. 

Tim Murphy/BLS
State by state unemployment rates by rural, urban and urban counties.

Rural America was slower than the nation’s cities to be dragged into the recession. Until October of 2008, unemployment was lower in rural counties than in the cities. Rural unemployment jumped near the end of 2008 and in January of this year. But since, the sharp declines in rural jobs have moderated.

The three charts that follow show the number of jobs in rural, exurban and urban counties in recent months compared to the same months a year ago. You can see that while the number of jobs in urban and exurban counties has continued to decline through May, in rural counties the losses have stemmed.

There were still nearly 700,000 fewer jobs in rural America this May than in May of 2008, but that is slightly better than April, when rural counties had 775,000 fewer jobs than in the same month in 2008.

Here is a chart showing the number of jobs in rural counties now and a year ago.[img:May09Rural.jpg]

Here is a chart showing the number of jobs in urban counties now and a year ago.[img:May09Urban.jpg]

And this shows the comparison in the number of jobs in exurban counties with a year ago.[img:May09Exurban.jpg]

 

 

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