Full-page version of the map.

There were more jobs in rural America in June than in May of this year – but just by a smidgen.

The employment picture seen in the latest release of data can be summed up in one word: stalled.

The nation is trying to come back from the job losses that arrived with the pandemic in 2020.  For much of the second half of 2020, the recovery was swift. But the gains now are in the fractions. Between May and June, the nation’s net gain in employment nationally amounted to just 0.3%.

Rural Employment Totals

Rural America added about 93,000 jobs in June, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was an increase of just one half of one percent over May.

And, as the map above shows, most U.S. counties had fewer jobs this June than June of 2019, before the Covid pandemic began.

For the past three months there has been little change in the rural employment totals. Rural counties as a whole haven’t lost jobs. But the gains have been miniscule. The picture in big cities and small towns has looked much the same.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Now, in the heat of the summer, might be a good time to review how the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped the nation’s job market, paying particular attention to rural communities.

First, there was the giant drop in jobs in the first months of the epidemic. In April 2020, the nation had lost about 15% of the jobs that were counted in April 2019.

Daily Yonder/Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Management and Budget

The job loss in the large metro areas was more pronounced than in rural counties. The central city counties in metro areas of a million or more people had only 84% of the jobs that were in those same counties in April 2019. Rural counties had 87% of the jobs they had the year before.

Beginning in the late summer and fall of 2020, jobs started coming back. The job gains were faster in the large cities and suburbs than in rural counties. But, of course, they had more ground to make up. By April of this year, rural and urban counties as a whole stood in about the same place. Both had about 97% of the jobs that existed in April 2019, two years earlier. The country as a whole in June of this year had 96.7% of the jobs that existed in June 2019.

That figure is about the same whether you measure the most densely populated central-city counties or the most remote rural communities. And it has been true for the past three months.

Here are graphs comparing employment for May and June of 2019 through 2021. You'll see the same pattern of decline from 2019 to 2020 (the early stage of the pandemic), with a recovery in 2021 that doesn't quite reach the 2019 levels. You'll also notice how rural counties have smaller reductions in employment in 2020. That fact is doubly reinforced by the scale of the graphs; metropolitan employment is about six times that of nonmetropolitan employment.

Daily Yonder/Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Management and Budget
Daily Yonder/Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Management and Budget

Map Key

Of course, the most important employment figures are the ones in your community. The map above shows how well every U.S. county is doing in getting back those jobs lost in the Covid recession of last spring and early summer.

The map shows rural counties in various shades of red. Urban counties are various shades of blue. Counties with darker colors performed better than counties with lighter colors.

The map compares 2021 employment to 2019 employment using the national average change in employment for the period, which is 96.7% (the U.S. had 96.7% of the jobs in June 2021 as it did in June 2019)

Scroll over the map and you’ll see figures for each county. And notice the patterns.

Broad Regional Trends

The big metro areas on both coasts and in the Midwest are lagging in regaining the jobs they had in June 2019. Sunbelt cities in Arizona, Texas and Florida have more jobs than they had two years ago.

Rural counties in the Great Plains, the Northeast, Michigan and the upper Midwest are lagging. But rural communities in the Mountain West are doing much better than they were two years ago in terms of employment.

Tell us what’s going on in your county.