In latest pre-COVID-19 jobs report, rural economy remains lukewarm

The latest federal jobs report shows continued weakness in rural employment, especially in agriculture-dependent communities.

Rural America added jobs from January 2019 to January 2020. But the growth rate was about half the national rate. And many rural counties lost jobs during that time.

Data released Friday by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics only covers through January this year, the month before multiple cases of the coronavirus were reported in the United States. This may be the last “normal” report we’ll likely see for some time.

The US economy added more than 2.1 million jobs from January 2019 to January this year. Seven out of ten of these jobs were created in metropolitan areas with a population of one million or more. Only 6.5% of these jobs were created in rural counties.

These numbers show a continued shift of jobs to major metropolitan areas. The largest cities had 58.5% of existing jobs, but gained 70% of new jobs. Rural counties had 12.8% of jobs in January 2019, but gained only 6.5% of all new jobs.

In fact, nearly half of the most rural counties (those outside metropolitan areas without cities with populations over 10,000) have lost jobs in the past year. Only 24% of metropolitan counties have lost jobs in the past year.

Job growth was strongest in large metropolitan areas (red columns) and weakest in rural counties (green columns). (Daily Yonder Chart/Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Counties dependent on agriculture and manufacturing had a bad year. The Economic Research Service, a department of the Department of Agriculture, has ranked counties based on the jobs there. The 444 counties most dependent on agriculture have collectively lost 311 jobs over the past year.

In the 501 counties nationwide that rely on manufacturing for their local economies, job growth was less than half the rate for the nation as a whole.

Employment change in non-metropolitan counties sorted using the Economic Research Service’s economic classification system as of January 2019-2020. Agriculture-dependent counties lost jobs. Counties dependent on employment by federal/state government agencies and counties dependent on leisure economies gained the most. (Daily Yonder using Bureau of Labor Statistics data and USDA ERS county classification system)

Jobs collected from counties with the highest percentage of adults with college degrees. In counties where 40% or more of adults have a college degree, the number of jobs rose 1.8% last year.

In counties where less than 23% of adults had a college degree, jobs increased by 0.7%.

If you click on your county on the map, you can see your community data.

And remember, these numbers were collected before the coronavirus has started to affect the economy of the country. In another month, the Yonder can report on how the pandemic is affecting jobs in your county.

About Keneth T. Graves

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