In Last Jobs Report before COVID-19, Rural Economy Remains Tepid

From January 2019 to January 2020, jobs in rural areas grew at half the rate of urban areas. This data precedes the economic impact of the coronavirus in the U.S.

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The latest federal jobs report shows continuing weakness in rural employment, especially in communities dependent on farming.

Rural America added jobs from January 2019 to January 2020. But the rate of growth was about half the national rate. And many rural counties lost jobs in this time period.

The data released Friday from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics covers only through January of this year, the month before multiple cases of the coronavirus were reported in the United States. It is perhaps the last “normal” report we are likely to see for some time.

The U.S. economy added over 2.1 million jobs from January 2019 to January of this year. Seven out of ten of those jobs were added in metro areas of a million or more people. Only 6.5% of these jobs were created in rural counties.

These numbers show a continuing shift of jobs to the major metro areas. The largest cities had 58.5% of the existing jobs, but gained 70% of new employment. Rural counties had 12.8% of jobs in January 2019, but gained only 6.5% of all new employment.

In fact, nearly half of the most rural counties (those outside metro areas with no towns greater than 10,000 people) lost jobs in the last year. Only 24 percent of metropolitan counties lost jobs in the last year.

Job growth was strongest in major metropolitan areas (red columns) and weakest in rural counties (green columns). (Daily Yonder graphic/Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Counties dependent on farming and manufacturing had a bad year. The Economic Research Service, a department of the Department of Agriculture, has classified counties based on the jobs found there. The 444 counties that are most dependent on farming collectively lost 311 jobs in the last year.

In the nation’s 501 counties that depend on manufacturing for their local economies, job growth was at less than half the rate of the nation as a whole.

Job change in nonmetropolitan counties sorted using the Economic Research Service’s economic classification system from January 2019-2020. Farming-dependent counties lost jobs. Counties dependent on employment by federal/state government agencies and counties dependent on recreation economies gained the most. (Daily Yonder using Bureau of Labor Statistics data and the USDA ERS county classification system)

Jobs collected in the counties with the highest percentage of adults with college degrees. In counties where 40 percent or more of adults had college degrees, the number of jobs increased by 1.8 percent in the last year.

In the counties where fewer than 23 percent of adults had a college degree, jobs increased by .7 percent.

If you click on your county in the map you can see the data for your community.

And remember, these figures were collected before the coronavirus began to affect the country’s economy. In another month, the Yonder will be able to report how the pandemic is affecting jobs in your county.

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