[imgcontainer] [img:Nonmetro+and+metro+quarterly+employment+indices.jpg] [source]via USDA Economic Research Service[/source]  [/imgcontainer]

Rural and metro counties traveled the same path to reach the bottom of the employment bust after the last recession.

But early in the economic recovery, those paths diverged – with nonmetro counties showing few signs of job growth while metro’s prospects have improved at a much faster pace.

A new study from the USDA Economic Research Service finds that nonmetro counties started shedding jobs even before the recession officially started in December 2007. And, while the nation as a whole has finally clawed its way back to pre-recession job numbers, nonmetro counties have seen virtually no growth in jobs in the last three years.

The chart above tells the story. The green line represents the number of jobs in nonmetro counties (or the “employment index”); the blue line is metro jobs.

The two lines roughly parallel each other through the bottom of the employment cycle and into the early months of jobs recovery.

But from there, the lines diverge, with metro employment increasing and nonemtro employment remaining flat. “As a result, the gap between the metro and nonmetro employment indices has grown rapidly in the past three years,” the report states.

The study attributed the slower employment growth in rural areas to several factors: slow rural population growth, a lower percentage of college graduates and a higher percentage of older residents in rural areas versus metro ones.

Rural America’s job growth would have been even worse if not for gains in two rural-focused job areas — agriculture and extractive industries like oil-and-gas development.

The report, “Rural Employment Trends in Recession and Recovery,” was written by Tom Hertz, Lorin Kusmin, Alex Marré and Tim Parker.

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