The least populated rural counties have a jobless rate more than 1 point above the metro average. A slight improvement in unemployment over the year comes mainly from a decline in workers, not an increase in jobs.
Unemployment in rural America ticked up between January and February of this year, with the nation’s least populated counties experiencing the worst jobless rates, according to the most recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Unemployment in noncore counties (the most rural) climbed from 7.9% in January to 8.6% in February.
Micropolitan counties (those with towns between 10,000 and 50,000 residents) saw their unemployment rates rise from 7.4% in January to 8% in February.
The unemployment rate in metropolitan counties (those around cities of 50,000 residents and up) increased from 6.9% to 7.4%.
During the early years of the recession, which began in late 2007, rural areas often had lower unemployment rates than cities. In the last few years, however, unemployment rates in rural America have surpassed those in metropolitan counties.
In February of this year, the unemployment rate in the noncore counties was more than a full percentage point higher than in metro counties — 8.6% compared to 7.4%.
In the last year, the unemployment rate in these counties has barely budged, dropping from 8.9% last February to only 8.6% this February.
The reason the unemployment rates in micropolitan and rural counties dropped at all over the last year, despite only a slight gain in the number of jobs, is that there are fewer people looking for work. Since February of last year, noncore and micropolitan counties have gained 140,000 jobs. Metropolitan counties have have added more than 1.75 million jobs. Meanwhile, the total number of workers in rural and micropolitan counties has dropped by more than 100,000.
The map above shows the change in the unemployment rate in micropolitan and noncore counties from February of 2013 to February of this year. Click on the map and you’ll get a live version. Click on any county and you’ll see unemployment rates and other information.
Green and blue counties had a drop in unemployment in the last year. (Green counties dropped by more than a percentage point while the decline in the blue counties was smaller.)
Red and orange counties saw their unemployment rates rise — red counties by more than a point; orange by less than a point.
(Gray counties are metropolitan. Click on any one of them to see unemployment information.)
Regular Yonder readers will notice a change from earlier maps showing changes in unemployment rates. In the first few years of the recession, counties in the Southeast — particularly in the Carolinas — showed rapid rises in unemployment rates. That has reversed. The entire rural Northeast is showing improvement also.
For a long time the Great Plains was awash with dropping unemployment rates. The area still has relatively low rates, but the decreases have come to a halt. Meanwhile, rising unemployment rates in the Northwest and California have reversed and the region in this map is swathed in green.
The most dramatic changes in employment can be found in the eastern coalfields, particularly in the coal counties of Eastern and Western Kentucky. A slackening in demand for coal has pushed up unemployment in many of those counties, most to double digits.
The other areas that stand out to our eyes are the upper portions of Michigan and Missouri, where unemployment is rising.