Unemployment rates are again at pre-pandemic levels in rural counties, still higher in persistently poor urban counties
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected unemployment rates differently in rural and urban counties. In January 2020, just before the pandemic, the unemployment rates in rural counties, both persistently poor and not, were higher than in urban counties. In addition, the unemployment rates in persistently poor counties were higher than in counties that were not persistently poor (6 percent versus 4.6 percent, respectively, for rural counties). That changed with the pandemic-driven economic downturn. By April 2020, the unemployment rate among persistently poor rural counties had more than doubled to a peak of 12.6 percent. However, in other rural counties the unemployment rate had more than tripled, surpassing the unemployment rate in persistently poor rural counties with a peak of 13.7 percent. Similarly, in urban counties the unemployment rate more than tripled for persistently poor counties and quadrupled for other urban counties, surpassing the unemployment rates in rural counties. These changes in the unemployment rate suggest that the employment shock at the start of the pandemic was not as prominent in persistently poor counties as in counties that were not persistently poor, and that it had a larger effect on urban counties than rural counties. These changes are possibly due to differing employment dependence on industries that remained in operation, such as meatpacking, or that had less demand, such as retail and hospitality. By June 2020, the unemployment rate in not persistently poor rural counties had again fallen below the rate in persistently poor rural counties, while the rate in not persistently poor urban counties again fell below the rate in persistently poor rural counties by October 2020. As of October 2021, the unemployment rates in rural counties had returned to what they were before the pandemic, but the unemployment rate remained elevated in persistently poor urban counties. This chart updates data in the USDA, Economic Research Service report Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition, published in November 2021.
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