The latest federal employment numbers show jobs growing more quickly in urban areas than rural ones across the country – despite low unemployment across all regions.
Seventy percent of job growth from 2016 to 2017 was in places with more than a million residents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, rural places still struggled to create new jobs and maintain their workforces.
In Indiana, data shows 29 counties gaining jobs more slowly than the national rate in the past year, and another 23 losing jobs overall.
Rural Jay County in eastern Indiana has a workforce of fewer than 10,000 people, and a 3.2 percent unemployment rate – lower than this time last year.
But it’s also lost 167 jobs and 318 workers since mid-2016. That makes Jay tied with Perry County for the highest job loss rate in Indiana over the last year – a drop of 1.7 percent.
County development corporation executive director Bill Bradley says the factories that support their economy have had to automate jobs as the local labor force shrinks. Now, they need more skilled workers to maintain those new systems.
“You go around town here, especially here in Portland, and you’ll see ‘help wanted’ signs out in many of our manufacturers right now,” he says. “So there definitely is a need for people.”
Bradley sees the labor shortage as healthier than high unemployment. But it has put Jay and the neighboring counties that share its workforce in direct competition with places like Indianapolis.
“We’re never going to be a high-tech mecca,” Bradley says. “As I like to tell people, we make things here, and we grow things here.”
Bradley says this fall, they’ll start local training programs to help people who already live in Jay County take those readily available industrial maintenance jobs.
“We feel that the closer that you bring education to the people, the people will stay here.”
He says they’re also focusing on making their small towns and schools more attractive to current and potential residents who might not want to live in a city.