Revisiting the urban-rural divide: Job losses in rural counties not as deep as in metros during the pandemic.

It’s been a while since we’ve written about the urban-rural divide. Back in 2019, we speculated about “peak metro,” the beginnings of a migration away from high-cost cities to more affordable mid-size towns. (Seattle, notably, has been an outlier, continuing to be one of the faster growing major metros.) 

More recently, in the early ‘bend the curve” days of the pandemic, we reported that the higher concentration of COVID-19 cases in dense urban areas was likely to put a damper on the eventual recovery.  In that post, we cited a Brookings Institution analysis.

Zoom in on the 15 hardest-hit counties, and the numbers suggest that the nation is losing crucial parts of local economies that account for nearly 26 million jobs and $3.3 trillion in output, representing 16% of U.S. GDP and 12.9% of employment. In other words, the health crisis and labor market breakdown of just a few hard-hit urban counties is undercutting the entire nation’s economic might.

Today, Bill Bishop, writing at the Daily Yonder, examines employment change by county from September 2019 to September 2020.

Most places in the United States have fewer people working this September than in the same month a year ago. But rural counties are doing better compared to the nation’s largest cities, according to employment figuresreleased by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Rural counties have lost a smaller percentage of their jobs than the rest of the country since last September, as the Covid-19 epidemic has limited business activity. In fact, rural counties are slowly adding jobs as the country’s major metro areas continue to struggle.

That, of course, is consistent with what you might have expected, even without the benefit of the Brookings analysis.  Click through to the story, which includes an interactive version of the map below.

Again, metropolitan Puget Sound counties are doing better than the national average, as are many of the state’s more rural regions. Bishop concludes by reporting,

A year ago, the unemployment rate in the major metro areas was slightly smaller than in rural counties – all at or below 3.5%.

This September, however, the unemployment rate in rural counties was 6%. In the central counties of the nation’s largest cities, the unemployment rate in September averaged 9.7%.

Recovery remains elusive, but the differential impacts of the pandemic are clearly apparent.