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.
Nearly half of the nation’s rural counties have lost jobs over the last four years, according to figures provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The U.S. has been adding jobs since the beginning of President Obama’s second term. In all, there were 8.2 million more jobs in 2015 than four years earlier.
But 96.5 percent of that gain has been in the cities. Rural counties and micropolitan counties (those with towns between 10,000 and 50,000 people) added just 280,000 jobs between 2011 and 2015.
Moreover, the rural workforce is diminishing. The number of people either working or looking for a job in rural America dropped by 500,000 in the second Obama administration.
One of the reasons the rural unemployment rate has dropped is because people have either quit looking for work or moved to metropolitan counties.
Meanwhile, the workforce in the cities grew by 3.1 million from 2011 to 2015.
These figures come from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS collects jobs data for every county monthly, but the agency’s most reliable data is its yearly summary. The latest summary is for 2015.
In this article, we are taking a long-term look at employment in rural America during the second term of President Barack Obama using the most reliable data provided by the federal government.
The map above shows the counties that gained or lost jobs from 2011 to 2015.
Metropolitan counties that lost jobs are orange.
Metropolitan counties that gained jobs are blue.
Rural and micropolitan counties that lost jobs are red.
Rural and micropolitan counties that gained jobs from 2011 to 2015 are green.
If you click on the map to the left and then click on a county, you’ll see detailed employment information, including the number of jobs gained or lost since 2011, the size of the workforce and unemployment rates.
Job gains were concentrated in metro counties. Eight out of ten counties in metropolitan areas gained jobs between 2011 and 2015.
The job gains in some metro counties were astounding. Los Angeles County gained 438,000 jobs in four years. Maricopa County (Phoenix) gained 196,000. Both Dallas and Harris counties in Texas gained well over 150,000 jobs each. On the map, you can see that cities up and down the two coasts were solid blue, all gaining jobs over the last four years.
The same good news is not found in rural America. Only half of micropolitan and rural counties had job gains.
The losses from 2011 to 2015 were particularly severe in eastern coal mining counties. Seven of the eight counties with the largest job loses were in the eastern coalfields – Pike, Harlan, Letcher and Floyd in Kentucky; Mingo in West Virginia; and Lee in Virginia. Mingo County lost a fourth of all its jobs, as did Harlan and Letcher.
Since the BLS compilation ends in 2015, it does not reflect most of the layoffs in the oil and gas industry that have marked 2016.