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.
A year after a strange new disease decimated workplaces across the country, the nation has gained back most of the jobs lost in the wake of Covid-19.
Most, but not all. According to the latest federal jobs figures, the nation still has 5.2 million fewer jobs this April than in April of 2019, the year before the pandemic hit.
The nation has 96.7% of the jobs that were here in April 2019. And that figure generally holds in both rural and urban America. In April of this year, rural counties had 97.1% of the jobs they had in April 2019. In the cities of a million or more people, the figure is slightly smaller. The huge metro areas had 96.2% of the jobs they had in April 2019, the year before the pandemic began.
The short-term story is that most places are getting back to the employment levels they had before anyone had heard of Covid-19. The long-term story, however, tells a different tale.
The chart below shows employment gains and losses from April 2010 to April 2021 among three different groups of counties: counties in metro areas of a million or more; counties in all other metro areas; rural counties.
You can see that the huge job gains before the pandemic were found in the mega-cities. By April 2019, the biggest metro areas had added 11.3 million jobs since April 2010, a gain of 15%. In the same period, rural counties had gained 618,000 jobs, or 3.1%.
The pandemic reduced the number of jobs in each geographic category to below April 2010 levels. But the recovery in the last year left the most urban counties with 10.1% more jobs in April 2021 than in April 2010.
Rural America in April 2021 had essentially the same number of jobs as in 2010, 11 years earlier. Rural America didn’t lose as much employment as the big cities did during the year of the pandemic. And as the Daily Yonder has shown in previous reports, rural areas gained back their lost jobs at a faster pace, at least through last fall.
And in April of this year the unemployment rate in rural America was about 4.9%. In the central counties of the major metro areas, the unemployment rate in April was 6.9%.
But the long term trends are that a greater proportion of the nation’s jobs are concentrating in the nation’s largest metro areas. In April 2010, rural counties had 14.1% of the nation’s jobs. By April of this year, rural counties had 13% of the nation’s jobs. The major metros (those with more than a million people) increased their share of the nation’s jobs from 56.7% to 58% in the same time period.
More than half of all rural counties (56.7%) had fewer jobs in April 2021 than they had eleven years earlier.
Among metropolitan counties, 31.1% had fewer jobs in April of this year compared to April 2010.
The map at the top of the page shows job gains and losses among rural and metro counties during this 11-year period.
There are often massive differences from one part of the country to another. For example, Cook County, Illinois, (aka Chicago) had nearly 42,000 fewer jobs in April 2021 than it had in April 2010. In that same time period, Maricopa County, Arizona, (Phoenix) gained 468,000 jobs.
Northeastern rural counties appear to have lost the most jobs over this 11-year time period. Litchfield County, Connecticut, and Chautauqua County, New York, each had 10,000 fewer jobs this April than in April 2010. The biggest job gainer among rural counties was Gallatin County, Montana, which had 18,000 more jobs this April than April of 2010. Click on the map and you will be able to see job gains or losses for each county.
Bill Bishop is a Daily Yonder contributing editor.
Robert Cushing is a retired professor of sociology at the University of Texas Austin.