Sunbelt, West Coast Lead Unemployment

The nation’s rural and urban unemployment rates dropped from September 2013 to September 2014. But the Great Plains and Upper Midwest are faring better than most.

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What was that about the Sunbelt?

You remember the Sunbelt, right, the ever-growing, job-producing, always-booming heart of the nation’s economy? Well, check out the map above.

The counties colored red or orange had unemployment rates in September that were above the national average of 5.7 percent. Red counties are metropolitan. Orange counties are nonmetro – or what is frequently referred to as “rural.”

The vaunted Sunbelt is awash with red and orange. Georgia, with the highest unemployment rate in the country, is almost entirely red and orange.

To find urban or rural counties with unemployment rates at or below the national average of 5.7 percent (blue and green, respectively) you have to swing your gaze to the Great Plains or, gasp, the Northeast. Don’t look to the Pacific Coast. It is as red and as orange as the Southeast.

The healthiest piece of the country is the giant swath of green and blue running from West Texas to North Dakota. Yep, the Great Plains just might be the new Sunbelt — only without the hype.

Click the map or here to get an interactive version and explore job figures by clicking on any county.

 (Alaskans and Hawaiians, just pull the map to the north and west; you know the way.)

Unemployment rates are down sharply from September 2013.  In metropolitan counties, the unemployment rate has dropped from 7 percent to 5.8 percent.

In so-called micropolitan counties — nonmetro counties with towns between 10,000 and 50,000 residents — the rate over  the last year has fallen from 6.9 percent to 5.6 percent.

And in “noncore” counties (those nonmetro counties with no town larger than 10,000), the rate has dropped from 7 percent last September to 5.8 percent this September.

(FYI: In the map above, we’ve combined rural and micropolitan counties into the “rural” or nonmetro category. No county in this “rural” category is within a metropolitan region, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)

Nearly six out of 10 metropolitan and rural counties had unemployment rates in September that were below the national average of 5.7 percent.

Moreover, 57 percent of rural residents lived in a county where the local unemployment rate matched or was lower than the national average in September.

Thanks to the oil and gas boom there, the eight counties with the lowest unemployment rates in September were all rural and in North Dakota — Williams, Dunn, Billings, McKenzie, Stark, Slope, Mountrail and Bowman counties

(Data Note: The data for this map comes from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS is counting the people employed or looking for a job in each county, not the jobs within a county. The BLS data are not seasonally adjusted, which is why we compare rates from year to year rather than from month to month.)

 

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