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Rural counties have enjoyed a faster resurgence than the rest of the nation in employment after the initial economic shock of the pandemic. But the most recent county-level job figures show the recovery may be sputtering.

Both rural and urban counties saw large drops in employment this spring after Covid-19 shut down the economy. But the rural rate of decline was shallower than the drop in metropolitan jobs. 

Since May 2020, the country has been adding jobs each month relative to the previous year’s employment. The rural job deficit improved from minus 8.8% in May (compared to employment in May 2019) to minus 3.0% in November (compared to November 2019).

But the rate of improvement softened from October to November in rural areas. It remained flat in metropolitan areas of more than 1 million residents. And in smaller metro areas (under 1 million residents), the year-to-year employment comparison worsened slightly.

The nation experienced a similar plateau in jobs recovery from August to September but saw modest job gains from September to October.

Graph: Daily Yonder

Overall, the county-level jobs report shows that rural job losses remain about half of the losses that occurred in major cities.

The central cities in the major metros had 2.86 million fewer jobs from November of 2019 to November 2020. 

Rural America had 617,000 fewer jobs in this same period.

Nationally, there were 5.2% fewer jobs this November compared to a year ago, only slightly better than the 5.1% deficit in October.

The map above shows the change in the number of jobs between November 2020 and November of 2019 by county. 

  • Dark green counties are rural and gained jobs in this period. 
  • Light green are rural counties that lost jobs from November 2020 to November 2019, but performed better than the national average, which had a 5.2% decline in jobs for the period.
  • Red is rural counties that performed worse than the national average.
  • Yellow is metropolitan counties that did better than the national average.
  • Orange is urban counties that did worse than the national average.

There are a thousand stories in this map. For instance, seven of the top 11 rural counties in terms of jobs gained in the last year are in Alabama. We don’t have a good explanation for this change.

Many of the rural counties that lost the most jobs are in Colorado’s mountain resort counties. They were among the counties first hit by the pandemic and jobs in hotels, restaurants and other personal services have been the slowest to come back. 

Click through the map and tell us if you see any interesting trends.

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