Rural America lost jobs in 2016, according to a Daily Yonder analysis of federal jobs data, as the growth in employment continued to concentrate in the nation’s largest cities.

Click on map for interactive version.

Eight out of 10 jobs created in 2016 were in the 51 metropolitan areas of a million people or more. These giant urban areas gained 1.2 million jobs between January 2016 and January of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In rural counties, there are nearly 90,000 fewer jobs this January than in the same month a year ago.

The map above shows the change in jobs at the county level between January 2016 and January 2017.

  • Blue counties are in metropolitan areas and gained jobs. Orange counties are in metro regions and lost jobs.
  • Green counties are rural and gained jobs. Red counties are rural and lost jobs.
  • Click on any county and you’ll get local employment information.

The map shows a reverse in employment patterns in parts of rural America. Much of the rural South, including the Eastern Kentucky coalfields, showed job gains in 2016. For most of the last few years, some of these areas – especially the coalfields – reported job losses. On the other hand, the booming shale gas regions of Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Texas now report job losses instead of their previous gains. Williams County, North Dakota, the epicenter of that state’s shale gas industry, had nearly 5,000 fewer jobs in January 2017 than it did a year ago.

(Story continues below chart…)

Workforce January 2016Employed January 2016Unemployed January 2016Workforce January 2017Employed January 2017Unemployed January 2017Jobs Gained/Lost%Change
Urban Counties,
1 Million +
Suburban Counties,
1 Million +
Metro Counties, 250,000 to 1 million32,575,02330,788,6671,786,35632,885,33131,101,4731,783,858312,8061.0%
Metro Counties, 50,000 to 250,00013,687,68312,911,569776,11413,735,82212,972,532763,29060,9630.5%
Rural counties adjacent to metro areas13,795,17512,935,506859,66913,742,73012,901,788840,942-33,718-0.3%
Rural not adjacent to metro areas7,121,3676,695,869425,4987,054,6986,641,020413,678-54,849-0.8%

The rural Northwest is gaining jobs, too. Earlier, the that was losing employment.

The consistent theme of this latest jobs report, however, is how employment is centered in the most urban of the nation’s counties. As counties get farther away from these giant metros, employment figures worsen.

In the big metro areas, the unemployment rate is under 5 percent. In rural counties, the unemployment rate tops 6 percent.

The slow growth, or even decline, in rural jobs is the continuing story of the post-recession economy. Everybody lost jobs in the crash of 2008. But since the recovery began the growth in jobs has centered in the nation’s largest cities.

Contributing editor Bill Bishop is a founder of the Daily Yonder.

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