Rural America Is Rich in Jobs, Short on Workers

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The economic situation of rural America is often overlooked. The reason? Employment, housing, and consumer spending reports tend to focus on the country’s major urban centers where economic activity is most concentrated.

Plus, due to their lack of density, economic trends in non-metropolitan (rural) areas can be difficult to track. Consider the land size-to-population differences between rural and urban areas in the U.S. Urban areas comprise only 3% of all the land area in the country, and yet they are home to 80% of the population. This 80% tends to get the most attention, perhaps because it’s easier to see.

This laser focus on dense, urban areas is a problem, chiefly because it leaves out more than 65 million Americans. We wanted to know more about the employment situation of these folks, so we combed through ZipRecruiter data to locate the top rural job markets with the greatest employment opportunity.

Rural Job Markets With the Most Opportunity

To determine the top 10 rural job markets, we looked at all of America’s non-metropolitan areas and ranked them according to the ZipRecruiter Opportunity Index. The index compares the number of job openings to job applicants. A figure higher than 1 indicates a job market where there are more jobs available than applicants. For perspective, we then compared the level of opportunity in the top rural job markets to opportunity in their major metropolitan counterparts.

The key takeaway from this study is that opportunity abounds in America’s rural job markets, often at a greater rate than we see in their urban neighbors. The data shows that even though there may be a greater overall number of jobs available in major cities, there’s also much more competition.  

However, the high opportunity index scores in these rural areas can’t be attributed solely to lower populations. The ranking also indicates that the job growth we’re seeing across today’s robust economy is occurring in rural America as well. Just two years ago, in April of 2016, the opportunity index in rural New York was 1.1—still a job-seekers market, but significantly more competitive compared to today.

Top Industries Hiring in the Top Rural Markets

So what industries offer the best rural opportunities? ZipRecruiter data shows there are job openings within many thriving industries in the top rural markets, and a shortage of healthcare workers is a clear trend across all of them, especially in New York. There are currently over 400 healthcare job openings for every single applicant in rural New York.

Yes, healthcare jobs are booming pretty much everywhere. But opportunity is also high in the retail and finance industries, with openings running the gamut from entry-level to senior management roles.

Rank Top Rural Job Markets Top Industry
1. New York Healthcare
2. South Dakota Agriculture
3. Minnesota Healthcare
4. Montana Retail
5. Utah Manufacturing
6. Arizona Education
7. Maine Finance and Insurance
8. Nebraska Finance and Insurance
9. Idaho Healthcare
10. Vermont Retail

Contrary to popular belief, agriculture and manufacturing jobs are not the only opportunities available in rural America. In fact, these industries ranked highly in only two of the top 10 rural job markets we studied.

Considering how many available, high-paying jobs there are across the rural areas of our country, job seekers willing to move from the city to the country stand to significantly increase their odds of landing a job they want.


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Author: Jeffery Marino

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