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The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that rural labor markets were deeply impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. The April jobs numbers revealed a seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 13.7 percent for counties outside of metropolitan areas. The rural unemployment rate for March was 4.9 percent and the overall rural unemployment rate had been trending downwards until the onset of the crisis. Across the nation over 2.8 million rural workers were unemployed in April – an astounding increase of 1.8 million jobless in one month. Like the health crisis itself, the increases in unemployment varied by community but most rural communities experienced large increases in their unemployment rates.
Potential Unemployment Ramifications for Rural Housing
Jobs and employment conditions have traditionally been a bellwether and leading indicator for housing trends. While the unemployment caused by COVID-19 is unprecedented and unpredictable, such high jobless rates signal the potential for serious concerns across the housing spectrum. Many Americans have been buoyed by large scale federal unemployment benefits and economic stimulus. But most of those resources are slated to end abruptly in the coming months. If rural unemployment rates remain anywhere near these historic levels, the collateral impacts to almost all sectors of the housing market could be substantial – notably the ability of unemployed households to make rent and mortgage payments.
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About the Data: Information for this Brief derives from HAC tabulations of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) reporting. https://www.bls.gov/lau/ In this Brief the terms Outside Metropolitan Area and Rural are used synonymously and refer to counties and population outside of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) designated Metropolitan Areas. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Bulletin-18-04.pdf