Rural employment improves but lags Jobs in recession era | Daily Yonder

Rural America added 171,200 jobs last year, but has yet to recover employment lost during the pandemic. For that matter, it has not replaced the jobs lost during the Great Recession 15 years ago.

According to a Daily Yonder analysis of new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in rural (nonmetropolitan) counties increased by about 1 percent from 2022 to 2023, according to OMB’s 2013 definitions of metropolitan statistical areas.

The annual employment increase is part of a longer trend of recovery from pandemic-related economic shutdowns in 2020. Rural counties have added jobs every year since 2020.

But last year’s hiring was still 106,800 jobs shy of pre-pandemic employment. And post-pandemic job growth slowed last year, compared with 2021 and ’22.

Employment earnings vary by geography

Nationally, employment improved by 1.44% last year, adding 2.3 million jobs to the market. Growth varied by geography, with more densely populated counties gaining more jobs than less densely populated ones.

This analysis is based on annual average employment figures, which provide a way to look at long-term changes in employment, as opposed to monthly jobs reports.

Jobs grew the most in major metropolitan areas, those with more than 1 million residents. These counties gained 1.4 million jobs, an increase of 1.57% compared to 2022.

In medium-sized metros, those with populations between 250,000 and under 1 million, jobs increased by 1.45%, totaling 462,600 new jobs.

Smaller metropolitan counties with fewer than 250,000 residents gained 187,200 jobs, an increase of 1.37% compared to 2022.

Nationally, about 70% of all US counties added jobs last year, but only 60% of non-metropolitan counties saw an increase.

Employment recovery from the pandemic lags in rural areas

Job growth in 2022 brought the number of rural jobs to 106,800 pre-pandemic jobs, a decrease of 0.5% from 2019. Meanwhile, employment in metropolitan counties increased by about 2.1% from the pandemic. This represents 2.9 million additional jobs as of 2019.

While jobs grew in metropolitan counties as a group, there were differences based on the size of the metropolitan areas.

In the nation’s largest cities, employment rose 2.19%, adding 2 million jobs to their pre-pandemic employment numbers.

Mid-sized metros added 735,300 jobs to their pre-pandemic employment levels, meanwhile, representing a 2.32% increase over 2019.

Small metros with populations of less than 250,000 added 707,300 jobs since 2006, a 1.35% increase over 2019.

Rural jobs are still behind pre-recession levels

In the long run, rural counties have yet to recover the jobs they lost during the Great Recession of 2008, while metropolitan Americans have returned to pre-recession employment more than a decade ago.

This chart above shows the relative change in employment in various types of metropolitan and non-metropolitan (rural) counties compared to annual employment in 2006, the last full year before the recession began in 2007. If this chart looks familiar, it is because Daily Yonder has been following this trend for years.

After almost identical declines in 2009, labor performance in rural and urban areas began to follow different trajectories. Large and medium-sized metros exited relatively quickly and began to recover in 2009. Small metros and nonmetropolitan (rural) counties did not bottom out until 2010. After that, nonmetropolitan counties collapsed while the rest of the country saw a very strong recovery. faster .

By 2019, a year before the pandemic, rural counties were still well below pre-recession employment, while the rest of the country had moved ahead, with major metropolitan counties leading the way.

A less pronounced but similar trend has occurred in the recovery from the pandemic. Both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties lost jobs at similar rates from 2019 to 2020. As of 2021, job recovery in rural counties has been at a slower pace than the rest of the country.

The cumulative result of the recession and the pandemic is that non-metropolitan America had 655,700 fewer jobs in 2023 than in 2006 – a 3.13% decline.

In metropolitan areas over the same time period, employment increased by 18 million jobs, a 15% increase.

Large metropolitan areas saw the largest percentage of employment growth since the recession, adding 14 million new jobs to the market, representing an 18% increase in employment.

Smaller metropolitan counties also saw improvements in employment in 2006, but not as much as the nation’s largest cities. In medium-sized metros, employment grew by 11% between 2006 and 2023. This equates to 3.2 million additional jobs.

In small metropolitan counties, jobs increased by 5.38%, 707,300 jobs more than 2019 levels.

To learn more about employment in your county, use the search bar in the table below.


For sustainability’s sake, the Daily Yonder is continuing to use OMB 2013 Meter and Nonmeter Outlines, although the updated 2023 list has been published. Using a consistent definition of rural allows us to easily track changes in rural economies over time.

In the OMB system, metropolitan areas are defined county by county. The entire county is either metropolitan or not, based on the size of a city in that county or travel patterns. The OMB considers all other counties to be “nonmetropolitan.”

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