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Image: Rural Economy & Population

Employment & Education



Labor market conditions are of great importance in rural America as elsewhere, having a powerful impact on both individual and community well-being.  Important indicators of labor market conditions include the unemployment rate, employment growth, and earnings levels. 

Unemployment rates in nonmetro areas are similar to rates in metro areas, though with wide geographic variation.  The impact of the 2007-09 recession on unemployment was similar in metro and nonmetro areas, as reported in Rural America at a Glance, 2010.

The employment decline during the 2007-09 recession was also similar in magnitude in metro and nonmetro areas.  However, over longer periods, employment growth rates have generally been higher in metro areas, in part because the most rapidly growing nonmetro areas frequently attain metro status at some point. 

Average earnings are substantially lower among nonmetro workers. The lower rural earnings levels reflect lower shares of highly skilled jobs and lower returns to college degrees in rural labor markets.

Educational attainment is closely linked to labor market outcomes, as those who are more highly educated generally receive higher earnings and are less likely to be unemployed.  Educational attainment in nonmetro areas has increased over time. Nonmetro areas are closing the gap with metro areas in high school completion, but the college completion gap is growing. Workers with higher levels of educational attainment typically fare better in the labor market and recent data confirms this to be true at the end of the last decade. ERS has most recently examined educational attainment and how it is rewarded in labor markets in Rural America at a Glance, 2011.

ERS research provides information about:

  • Variation in employment and unemployment trends between nonmetro and metro areas and across nonmetro county types and regions
  • Employment trends in nonmetro areas by industry
  • Characteristics of the nonmetro unemployed
  • Factors affecting earnings differences between metro and nonmetro areas
  • Trends in nonmetro educational attainment, including unemployment and poverty rates by attainment level.

We've redesigned our website. You may be interested in browsing the material (including topics listed above) that was available in the Rural Labor and Education briefing room, which is available in our archive. It includes a discussion of the location and characteristics of low-education counties.

Last updated: Thursday, June 05, 2014

For more information contact: Lorin Kusmin

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