Unemployment had been dropping in rural and exurban counties, but late last year, those declines came to a halt.

The unemployment rate in rural and exurban counties in December (the latest month for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has data) stayed essentially unchanged from November. Rural counties had a 7.3 percent unemployment rate. Exurban counties stood at 6.8 percent. And urban counties were at 7.4 percent.

(Remember, exurban counties are largely rural in character, but they are within metropolitan regions. Exurban people may work in cities, but they live in rural.)

All of this is better than a year ago, when rural unemployment was 8.1 percent and exurban unemployment hung in there at 7.7 percent. Urban unemployment in December 2011 was 8.3 percent.

More people are working in rural America than a year ago — 130,000 more, according to the BLS. And there are more than 200,000 fewer unemployed people living in rural counties than in December 2011.

But that kind of news varies by county, region and state. This month, we’ll look at the variation in employment by state. Click to the next page to see the 50 state breakdown.


There is a large difference in rural unemployment rates across the country. Four states — California, Arizona and the two Carolinas — have double-digit unemployment rates.

Meanwhile, there are seven states where the rural unemployment rate is under 5 percent — New Hampshire, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Nebraska and North Dakota, where the rural rate is a piddling 2.7 percent.

There are ten states where the rural unemployment rate is lower than the urban rate. In Nevada and Kansas the rural rate is a full point lower than the urban rate.

There are 22 states where the rural rate is a full point (or more) higher than the urban rate. It’s more than two points higher is Virginia, Oregon, Tennessee, Maine and South Carolina. And the rural rate is more than three points higher than the urban rate in Arizona and Alaska.

North Carolina is home to the most unemployed rural workers — 133,000 as of December 2011.

California has the highest exurban unemployment rate, 11.1 percent, followed by Nevada and Oregon. Again, the lower unemployment rates for exurban counties are in the Great Plains states of Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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