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Most places in the United States have fewer people working this September than in the same month a year ago. But rural counties are doing better compared to the nation’s largest cities, according to employment figures released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Rural counties have lost a smaller percentage of their jobs than the rest of the country since last September, as the Covid-19 epidemic has limited business activity. In fact, rural counties are slowly adding jobs as the country’s major metro areas continue to struggle.

(September is the latest month for which the BLS has county-level job reports.)

Rural counties lost a little over 4% of the jobs they had in September 2019. In contrast, the metropolitan counties that contain the urban centers of cities of a million or more people have lost nearly 8% of the jobs they had a year ago.

The nation as a whole lost 6.5% jobs over these 12 months.

The map above shows if counties gained or lost jobs between September 2019 and September of this year. 

The country’s major cities lost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Los Angeles County, for example, has 822,000 fewer jobs this September than September of 2019. Cook County (Chicago) lost nearly 300,000 jobs. Kings, Queens and New York counties in New York City all lost more than 100,000 jobs.

The largest rural job losses were in Hawaii. 

No county had extraordinary job gains, and the larger increases in employment were in smaller cities. For example, Lancaster County, Nebraska (Lincoln), added nearly 3,800 jobs in the last year, the most of any county in the country. Ouachita Parish, Louisiana (Monroe), was second at just over 3,100.

The largest gain in rural America was in Grand Traverse County, Michigan, which added just over 2,000 jobs.

A year ago, the unemployment rate in the major metro areas was slightly smaller than in rural counties – all at or below 3.5%.

This September, however, the unemployment rate in rural counties was 6%. In the central counties of the nation’s largest cities, the unemployment rate in September averaged 9.7%.