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The national employment report for August came out in early September and it showed that there was a slight increase in the number of jobs and a decline in the national unemployment rate to 5.1 percent. All good news.
The data also revealed some bad news: many people of working age have simply left the workforce. The percentage of people looking for employment was at an all time low, just under 63 percent. Sure, there was an increase in the number of jobs, but a whole lot of people of working age had simply given up on the idea of paying occupations.
And that got us wondering whether the workforce in rural America — the total of people employed and those looking for work — was increasing or decreasing.
Nationally, there was a very slight increase in the workforce, just 650,000. But in rural counties, the total workforce declined by about 25,000 since last July.
In the last year, there has been a gain of 152,000 jobs in rural counties. But the number of people looking for work has declined by 177,000.
Workforce declines were more widespread in rural America. Whereas 56 percent of urban counties gained workforce in the last year, 53 percent of rural counties (1,042 total) lost workforce since July 2014.
The map (click the thumbnail map or here to get an interactive version) shows the change in workforce in all U.S. counties between July 2014 and July of this year. The map reveals quite a bit of variation. In some areas, the workforce is expanding; in others, it is in sharp decline.
Urban counties that gained workforce are blue; urban counties that lost workforce are orange.
Rural counties that gained workforce are green. Rural counties that lost workforce are red.
There are incredible differences in workforce from one part of the country to another. Maricopa County (downtown Phoenix, Arizona) gained nearly 51,000 in its workforce over the year. Dade County (Miami) saw its workforce decline by 22,000.
Among rural counties, Gallatin County, Montana (Bozeman) was the big workforce winner, increasing its total of employed and unemployed by more than 2,300. (And Gallatin still had a 2.3 percent unemployment rate.) Wood County, Wisconsin, lost nearly 5,000.
Regional patterns appear on the map and in the employment tallies, which were collected by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Kentucky coalfields continue to show weakness. Pike County, Kentucky, saw its workforce drop by more than 1,200.
Rural counties in Maine also registered strong declines in workforce. Somerset, Oxford, Hancock, Kennebec, and Aroostook counties all showed steep drops in workforce over the year.
The Great Plains counties were once a source of job growth. This map, however, shows a decline in the total workforce, from Texas up to North Dakota — a consequence, perhaps, of the decline in oil and gas drilling activity.
The unemployment rate in urban and rural America continued to decline. The unemployment rate in urban counties averaged 5.5 percent in July 2015. In rural counties, it was just over 5.8 percent.