Rural employment has returned to pre-COVID-19 pandemic level

Line chart showing prepandemic and postpandemic urban and rural employment levels.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected employment in rural and urban areas differently. Before the pandemic, employment growth was higher and unemployment rates were slightly lower in urban areas. However, these trends reversed during the pandemic. In the second quarter of 2020, urban employment fell to 88 percent of prepandemic (Q1 2019) employment levels, while rural employment fell to 90 percent of prepandemic levels. Unemployment during the pandemic reached a high of 13.3 percent in urban areas and 11.4 percent in rural areas, compared with prepandemic rates of 3.8 and 4.2 percent, respectively. Rural and urban employment grew quickly in the third and fourth quarters of 2020 as many sectors of the economy reopened. Employment growth slowed in 2021, but more in rural areas than in urban. Urban employment recovered to prepandemic levels by the first quarter of 2022, and the urban unemployment rate dropped below the rural rate once again in the second quarter of 2022. Meanwhile, the slow employment growth rate in rural areas in 2022 (0.5 percent) was similar to rates in the years between the Great Recession of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2010 to 2019, the annual average employment growth rate in rural areas was 0.4 percent compared with 1.6 percent in urban areas. Rural employment recovered to prepandemic levels in the third quarter of 2023, more than one year after urban employment did. Rural unemployment rates in 2023 were at their lowest point (3.6 percent) since before 1990. This figure updates data in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance, published in November 2023.

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