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The coronavirus recession has led to layoffs and closed businesses everywhere, but rural America has fared better than the nation’s largest cities.

The farther away a county is from a central city, the fewer jobs it lost as the effects of Covid-19 shuttered businesses and kept people out of stores, gyms, restaurants and airports. When there were slight job gains in May, rural counties had larger percentage increases than did the counties in the middle of the nation’s largest cities.

The latest county-level job counts from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics cover May of this year. 

Employment increased slightly from April to May, reflecting the reopening of the economy in many states during that period. But comparing May 2020 to May 2019 shows how difficult the economic picture remains for many families. 

Between May 2019 and May 2020, the nation lost 19.3 million jobs, a 12.3 percent decline. In the central city areas of the nation’s largest cities, job loss came to 14.4%.

In rural counties, however, the decline in jobs from May to May was less than 9%.

Basically, the farther away a county sits from a metropolitan area of a million or more, the smaller the job loss over the last year. The smallest job decline, 8.4%, was in counties that are not adjacent to any metropolitan area.

In central cities of major metropolitan areas, the number of people unemployed this May was more than three times the number in May of 2019. In rural America, the number of unemployed is twice what it was a year ago.

Almost all the job losses in the last year came in April. Throughout most of 2019, the nation was adding jobs. After a massive drop in employment in April, there was a slight uptick in jobs in May.

Those May job gains were stronger in rural counties than in major metropolitan areas. The percentage rate of job gains in May were more than twice as large in rural counties than in central cities of major metros.

One reason for rural America’s better showing is that the pandemic has had a smaller impact on the farming economy. In counties where farming is a dominant part of the local economy, job loss in the last year was only 7.5 percent.

In counties that depend on recreation, job loss was 15.4 percent.

The map above shows the change in the number of jobs between May 2019 and May of this year.

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