The Daily Yonder's coverage of rural economic issues, including workforce development and the future of work in rural America, is supported in part by Microsoft.
Both rural and urban America now have just about as many jobs as they did in January 2020, the month we first started hearing about Covid-19.
In January of this year, rural counties had about 99% of the jobs they had in January 2020. These places still need to add about a quarter of a million jobs to get back to pre-Covid levels, but that is a fraction of the 20 million jobs in rural America.
The cities are still 1.2 million jobs shy of January 2020 employment, but that is a decline of less than a percentage point from pre-Covid levels.
On average, the employment situation in January (the most recent month for which county jobs data is available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) is good in both rural and urban communities. But who lives in an average community?
Nearly six out of 10 counties in the U.S. – both rural and urban – had fewer jobs in January of this year compared to January 2020. A great deal of America has not gotten back to the employment levels of early 2020.
The map above shows the regional ups and downs of job growth:
- Red-tinted counties didn’t have as many jobs in January 2022 as they did in January 2020. Dark red counties are rural. Light red counties are urban.
- Green-tinted counties had more jobs this January than two years before. Dark green counties are rural. Light green counties are urban.
Several light green clusters are familiar urban growth hubs – Dallas, Austin/San Antonio, Nashville, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Atlanta, Denver, Salt Lake City. Urban areas slow to recover are easy to spot: New Orleans, St. Louis, southern Michigan, and most of the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to the Carolinas.
Rural job growth looks good (dark green) in parts of the Great Plains, the Mountain West, the upper Midwest (Wisconsin and Minnesota), the Northwest, and on the edges of urban growth centers. Rural areas that have been slow to recover are clumped in the Northeast, Midwest, the oil and gas areas of Texas, New Mexico, and North Dakota, and in the Deep South.
The slowdown in oil and gas exploration and production shows in the figures. Williams County, North Dakota, the center of oil and gas activity in that state, had the largest job deficit of any rural county in the state, a decline of 4,180 from January 2020 to January 2022.
Mouse over the map and you can find employment figures for your county.
If we shorten the time period to one year — comparing January 2021 to January 2022 – then every geographic category shows gains in employment. Most of those jobs, however, went to the urban areas of a million or more people. These mega-cities collected 71% of the jobs created in the last year.
In the last year, the country has gained 7.2 million jobs, a 4.8% gain.
The biggest rural job gainers were Gallatin and Flathead counties in Montana (up 5,800 and 4,300 jobs respectively, about a 10% gain for each) and Jackson County, Georgia, which had a 12% gain in jobs (4,500).
The biggest job losers among urban counties were Los Angeles, Clark County (Nevada), Miami-Dade County (Florida), and Queens and Kings in New York City. Cook County (Chicago) and a raft of counties in Texas were the big job gainers.
This article defines "rural" as "nonmetropolitan." Nonmetropolitan counties are those not located in a Metropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the Office of Management and Budget (2013). More information on various methods for defining rural is available from the Economic Research Service of USDA.
At the time of publication, this article was based on the most recently released county-level jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment reports.