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.
More than two years after a rampaging pandemic created widespread unemployment, the number of jobs in the country is essentially back to pre-Covid-19 levels, according to a Daily Yonder analysis of data recently released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Remember, in April of 2020, we were already in the midst of the pandemic downturn. So for this analysis, we are comparing April of this year with April 2019, to avoid job numbers artificially inflated by the rebound from the 2020 collapse of employment.
Nationally, there are more than 7 million more jobs this April than the same month in 2019, the year before anyone had heard of Covid-19. That is a 4.5% increase in jobs from where the country stood three years ago.
That’s not robust growth, by any means. But the country lost nearly 23 million jobs in the first few months of the pandemic. All of those jobs have been recovered. And both rural and urban America have more jobs today than in April 2019.
We’d like to make two points about this latest account of the nation’s employment picture.
First, job growth and decline are largely local or regional issues. Some places have boomed since 2019, despite the pandemic. Other places are lagging.
The map above helps tell the story. It shows the change in the number of jobs in each U.S. county between April 2019 and April 2022.
Rural Map Key
- Red counties are rural communities that have fewer jobs this April than in April of 2019.
- Light green counties gained jobs but not as much as the national average growth of 4.5%
- Dark green counties are rural communities that have gained jobs at a higher rate than the national average of 4.5% over the last three years.
The rural Mountain West has seen a jobs boom while the oil and gas counties of Texas and North Dakota still have not caught up with 2019 levels.
Urban Map Key
- Light red counties are metropolitan counties that have either lost jobs or gained jobs at a rate below the national average of 4.5%
- Brown counties are metropolitan areas with job growth over the last three year that has been faster than the national average.
You can see the familiar Sunbelt growth centers of Austin, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Nashville, Phoenix, Denver, and most of Florida. Seattle, Portland, and Salt Lake City and much of inland California are also ahead of the national average.
Scroll over the map to find the individual data for each county.
Our second point is that job growth in the last year has been much faster in urban counties than in rural communities.
The chart below shows the year-to-year percentage change in jobs in three categories: major metro areas with a million or more people; metro areas under a million; and rural counties (which we’re defining as nonmetropolitan).
You can see that from 2019 to 2020 (first set of columns in the graph), all three groups lost jobs, but the biggest cities lost the largest percentage.
Since then, however, the major metro areas have had the strongest job growth. Rural America has lagged. In the last year (third set of columns on the right), jobs in rural America grew by just 0.2%. In the major metros, jobs grew by 1.8%.
From April 2019 to April 2022, just over half of the nation’s metropolitan counties gained jobs faster than the national average of 4.5%. In rural America, only 38% of counties gained jobs above the national rate.