Rural America Enters 2017 With Fewer Jobs Than in 2016

Rural America’s slow economic recovery stalled and reversed in 2016. After modest job expansions recently, rural is back in the red for employment. Largest metro areas show gains.


Rural America lost jobs in 2016, according to a Daily Yonder analysis of federal jobs data, as the growth in employment continued to concentrate in the nation’s largest cities.

Click on map for interactive version.

Eight out of 10 jobs created in 2016 were in the 51 metropolitan areas of a million people or more. These giant urban areas gained 1.2 million jobs between January 2016 and January of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In rural counties, there are nearly 90,000 fewer jobs this January than in the same month a year ago.

The map above shows the change in jobs at the county level between January 2016 and January 2017.

  • Blue counties are in metropolitan areas and gained jobs. Orange counties are in metro regions and lost jobs.
  • Green counties are rural and gained jobs. Red counties are rural and lost jobs.
  • Click on any county and you’ll get local employment information.

The map shows a reverse in employment patterns in parts of rural America. Much of the rural South, including the Eastern Kentucky coalfields, showed job gains in 2016. For most of the last few years, some of these areas – especially the coalfields – reported job losses. On the other hand, the booming shale gas regions of Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Texas now report job losses instead of their previous gains. Williams County, North Dakota, the epicenter of that state’s shale gas industry, had nearly 5,000 fewer jobs in January 2017 than it did a year ago.

(Story continues below chart…)

Workforce January 2016 Employed January 2016 Unemployed January 2016 Workforce January 2017 Employed January 2017 Unemployed January 2017 Jobs Gained/Lost %Change
Urban Counties,
1 Million +
43,899,698 41,652,328 2,247,370 44,434,493 42,262,862 2,171,631 610,534 1.5%
Suburban Counties,
1 Million +
45,831,037 43,664,766 2,166,271 46,385,184 44,239,477 2,145,707 574,711 1.3%
Metro Counties, 250,000 to 1 million 32,575,023 30,788,667 1,786,356 32,885,331 31,101,473 1,783,858 312,806 1.0%
Metro Counties, 50,000 to 250,000 13,687,683 12,911,569 776,114 13,735,822 12,972,532 763,290 60,963 0.5%
Rural counties adjacent to metro areas 13,795,175 12,935,506 859,669 13,742,730 12,901,788 840,942 -33,718 -0.3%
Rural not adjacent to metro areas 7,121,367 6,695,869 425,498 7,054,698 6,641,020 413,678 -54,849 -0.8%
Total 156,909,983 148,648,705 8,261,278 158,238,258 150,119,152 8,119,106 1,470,447


The rural Northwest is gaining jobs, too. Earlier, the that was losing employment.

The consistent theme of this latest jobs report, however, is how employment is centered in the most urban of the nation’s counties. As counties get farther away from these giant metros, employment figures worsen.

In the big metro areas, the unemployment rate is under 5 percent. In rural counties, the unemployment rate tops 6 percent.

The slow growth, or even decline, in rural jobs is the continuing story of the post-recession economy. Everybody lost jobs in the crash of 2008. But since the recovery began the growth in jobs has centered in the nation’s largest cities.

Contributing editor Bill Bishop is a founder of the Daily Yonder.