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Image: Rural Economy & Population

Employment & Education

Labor market conditions substantially impact both individual and community well-being. Important indicators of labor market conditions include the unemployment rate, employment growth, and earnings levels.

Unemployment rates have followed similar trends in urban and rural areas since the end of the 2007-09 recession, falling from 10 percent in late 2009 to just over 6 percent in mid-2014. Declines in labor force participation have accounted for much of this change, particularly in rural areas where growth in employment has been modest (see Rural America at a Glance, 2014 Edition).

The rate of employment decline during the 2007-09 recession was also similar in magnitude in metro and nonmetro areas. However, since the recession, the employment growth rate has been higher in metro areas. Urban employment rose by 5 percent between the second quarters of 2010 and 2014, while rural employment rose by just 1 percent over the same period.

Average earnings are substantially lower among rural workers. For example, in 2012, median weekly earnings for workers holding or desiring full-time jobs were 20 percent higher in urban areas than in rural areas, as reported in Rural America at a Glance, 2013. The disparity was even greater for higher earnings levels in urban and rural areas.

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 generally fare better in the labor market. This is especially true in urban areas; in 2013, median earnings for college graduates were 83 percent above the median for high school graduates in urban areas, but only 54 percent higher in rural areas.

ERS research provides information about

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

Last updated: Tuesday, October 20, 2015

For more information contact: Alexander Marré and Thomas Hertz