Sign up for our newsletter

Full-page version of the map.

Rural employment grew at a slower pace than the rest of the nation from May to June 2020, but part of the reason is likely that rural areas lost fewer jobs during the pandemic’s initial economic shutdown this spring.

Employment in nonmetropolitan counties (which is how this story defines rural) grew by about 3.3%, or 610,000 jobs from May to June. The national job-growth rate was 3.9% in June.

Total rural employment stood at 19.1 million jobs in June, the latest month for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released county-level data.

Here are other findings from the Daily Yonder’s analysis of county-level job reports for June:

  • The nation’s largest metropolitan areas (those with 1 million or more residents) saw employment rise by 4.2%, or 3.3 million jobs, to 82 million.
  • Medium-sized metro areas (from 250,000 to 999,999 residents) had job growth of 3.7%.
  • Small metro areas (from 50,000 to 249,999 residents) increased employment by 3.2%.

But the picture reverses when we look at how counties are faring this year compared to 2019. This measurement gives a clearer picture of how much the U.S. economy has stumbled from the pandemic. The U.S. had 14.6 million fewer jobs in June 2020 than June 2019. Rural counties had 1.4 million fewer jobs for the period.

Every county type, from the largest cities to rural areas, had fewer jobs this June compared to June 2019. But the decline is less pronounced in rural areas. Rural areas were down 6.8% from June 2019 to June 2020, while the nation’s largest metropolitan areas had 10% fewer jobs this year compared to last June.

Covid-19 had a bigger impact on urban counties than rural ones. From March to April, the central counties in the nation’s largest cities lost over 15% of their jobs. Rural counties lost about 11%.

The map shows change in employment from May 2020 to June 2020. Green areas (dark is rural, light green is metro) are performing above the national growth average of 3.9%. Red areas are performing below par (dark red is rural, light red is metropolitan). Yellow counties are nonmetropolitan ones that added jobs, but at a rate below the national average of 3.9%

Job gains were unevenly spread around the country. Only 38.4% of rural counties matched or exceeded the 3.9% national rate of job growth from May to June 2020. Similarly, in urban America, only 40.8% of counties met or exceeded the national rate.

In June, the unemployment rate in the central counties in major metropolitan areas topped 13%. Rural counties had an unemployment rate of 8.8%.

What the national figures miss, however, is the astounding differences from one place to another. Rural Whitman County, Washington, lost nearly 13% of its jobs from May to June of this year. In the same period, rural Elko County, Nevada, added over 7,500 jobs, a 32% increase.

The four largest percentage gains among urban counties came from four Nevada counties, Washoe, Storey, Carson City and Clark (Las Vegas). All these counties recorded job gains from May to June above 30%.