WHILE the U.S. economy is now in its sixth year of recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-09, many rural areas have struggled to recover the jobs they lost during the downturn.
While urban employment now exceeds pre-recession levels, rural employment remains well below its 2007 peak and has continued to fall over the last year in many areas, according to the latest "Rural America at a Glance" report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Urban employment rose by 5% between the second quarters of 2010 and 2014. However, over the same four-year period, employment grew by just 1.1% in rural America, and as of mid-2014, it remained more than 3% below pre-recession levels despite a slight uptick recently.
Notable clusters of employment decline can be found in the Deep South, Appalachia, the Mountain West and the Pacific Northwest (Map). Employment in rural America as a whole is not even 2% above the employment trough reached during the recession and rose less than 1% between mid-2013 and mid-2014.
One region seeing employment growth, however, is the northern Plains, where energy extraction is generating new jobs.
"Counties experiencing such energy resource-driven growth still account for a small share of rural counties, but their numbers are significant in some areas, particularly in the nation's midsection," the report notes.
Between 2001 and 2011, oil and gas extraction was substantial relative to the local economy in 537 U.S. counties, including 444 rural counties. Oil/gas extraction at least doubled in 114 of these rural counties, mostly near major North American shale plays in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Rural counties that are adjacent to metro areas have also experienced faster-than-average job growth since 2009 after having suffered larger-than-average job losses during the 2007-09 recession.
Based on data for 2008-12, the share of working-age adults with at least a four-year college degree was 14% higher in urban areas (32%) than in rural areas (18%). Rural areas had a far greater proportion of working-age adults with a high school diploma but no further education and had a slightly greater proportion with some college experience but less than a four-year degree, the report states.
Across the rural-urban continuum, recovery from the recession has generally been more successful in counties where the working-age population has relatively high levels of education, the report adds.
"One likely reason is that the occupations and industries associated with higher education, such as education and health services, have done relatively well since the recession, providing high-education counties with more jobs to support a growing population. However, innovative leadership, higher-quality schools and greater wealth may also have contributed to the high-education county advantage," the report explains.
Despite the generally lower employee earnings in rural areas, some individuals and families do migrate from urban to rural areas at all levels of educational attainment due to quality-of-life factors, lower housing costs, personal ties or other specific opportunities that motivate them to move to, or move back to, rural America.