This recession is particular. Yes, rural unemployment rates are now below those in the cities. But the jobs picture really depends on where you live.
For the first time since last fall, the unemployment rate in rural America has dropped below that of urban counties. The figures come from May of this year, the latest month where county data is available.
The good news is spotty, however, as the map above shows. Green counties on the map had unemployment rates in May below the national average of 9.34%. Red counties had rates higher than the national average. (To see larger versions of the maps in this story, click on the maps.)
The unemployment story in rural counties is good and bad in waves across the country. Rates are low in parts of New England; high across Appalachia and the Southeast; low in the Midwest, the Plains and the Mountain West; and high again in the Northwest, Nevada and Arizona.
The map of rural unemployment rates looks like a barber pole.
The average unemployment rate in rural counties in May 2010 was 9.3%. In urban counties, the rate averaged 9.4%. And in exurban counties, the rate averaged 8.9%.
In a real sense, the national average doesn’t tell you much, since the unemployment rate varies so dramatically from place to place. The gap between the rural county with the highest unemployment (Baraga County, Michigan, 24.7%) and the lowest (Billings County, North Dakota, 1.3%) is a whopping 23 percentage points.
As you can see in the chart below, the rural unemployment rate has generally been higher than the urban rate throughout this recession, which began in December 2007.[img:UERMay.jpg]
Exurban rates have generally been the lowest of the three. The map below shows the country’s exurban counties. Generally, these are fast-changing counties near large cities. Many people in these counties work in metro areas, but they largely live in rural communities. [img:MayUERexurban528.jpg]
Again, in the map, red means the county had above average unemployment in May. Green means the county had rates below the national average of 9.34%.
Exurban counties in the Southeast show high unemployment, except for Virginia. Texas exurban counties show low unemployment, except for the communities around Houston. Again, the upper Midwest and Plains counties are doing well.
Only half of the nation’s 2,038 rural counties had lower unemployment rates this May than in May of 2009. Here are the 50 rural counties that had the largest absolute decreases in their unemployment rates in the last year. Notice the large number of counties in Indiana that have improved over the last year.[img:Maydecreasing.png]
Here are the 50 rural counties that had the largest absolute increases in their unemployment rates from May 2009 to May 2010.[img:mayincreasing.png]