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.
Rural America continued to add jobs in July, according to figures just released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are 124,000 more jobs in rural counties this July compared to July 2015, according to the BLS.
The pace of job growth in rural America, however, was a fraction of that in metropolitan areas. While the number of jobs in rural counties increased by 4.8 percent in the past year, job growth in metropolitan counties was 13.3 percent – more than twice the rural rate. Metropolitan counties added 2.5 million jobs in the last year.
This is a continuing story. For the past few years, job growth has been concentrated in metropolitan areas. Job growth in rural counties has been slower than in the cities – and concentrated in oil and gas producing counties.
Unemployment rates have come down everywhere, but unemployment remains a bigger problem in rural counties than in metro areas. The unemployment rate in urban counties has dropped from 5.5 percent to 5.1 percent in the last year. In the nation’s most rural counties, the rate has declined from 5.9 percent to 5.6 percent in July of this year.
The map above shows how all counties compare to the national unemployment rate of 5.1 percent in July. Blue counties are metro counties with July unemployment rates below the national average of 5.1 percent. Orange counties are in metro regions and have rates above the national average.
Red counties are rural with unemployment rates above 5.1 percent. Rural counties with rates below 5.1 percent are green.
Click on any county and you’ll bring up data for that place.
More than half (54 percent) of the nation’s rural counties have unemployment rates above the national average in July of 5.1 percent. Metro counties do much better. Only 43 percent of the nation’s urban places have rates above 5.1 percent.
There is considerable research that finds voters are swayed most by local economic conditions in the months leading up to an election. Incumbents are damaged by poor economic conditions in the time immediately before the vote. So we wondered how so-called swing states fared in this analysis.
We pulled out 10 states that are thought to be the battlegrounds for this election: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. As a group, these states have lower unemployment rates than the nation as a whole, in both rural and urban counties.
But local conditions are what count, and the map above shows that some swing states are still suffering. For example, the unemployment rate in rural Pennsylvania is nearly 2 percentage points higher than the national average of 5.1 percent. Michigan and Nevada also have rates higher than the national average in both rural and urban counties.
Rural Pennsylvania and Virginia have both lost jobs in the last year.
New Hampshire has unemployment rates over 2 percentage points lower than the national average in both rural and urban counties. Colorado and Iowa also have relatively low unemployment rates. In seven out of 10 swing states (all but Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania), metro unemployment rates were well below the national average.
Bill Bishop is contributing editor and a founder of the Daily Yonder.