In a new report from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS), rural counties that are continuously poor have the highest COVID-19 infection rates, and a tougher time recovering economically. According to the report, unemployment rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels in rural counties, but “persistently poor” rural counties had the highest COVID rates, starting in Sept. 2020.

From the report: “The initial employment recovery appeared stronger in rural counties than in urban counties, but since the fall of 2020, the unemployment rate has been lowest for counties that are not persistently poor. As of July 2021, rural counties that are not persistently poor had the lowest average unemployment rate (4.7 percent versus 4.3 percent in February 2020), followed by not persistently poor urban counties (5.7 percent versus 3.6 percent in February 2020) and persistently poor rural counties (6.7 percent versus 5.6 percent in February 2020). While still higher than in the pre-pandemic period, these rural unemployment rates demonstrate greater relative recovery than their urban counterparts. Persistently poor urban counties were the least responsive to economic recovery, with an unemployment rate of 9 percent, still nearly double the unemployment rate in February 2020. This rate is likely due to positions in retail and hospitality (hotel, food and drink, tourism and travel) remaining unfilled.”

With the current pandemic showing no signs of abating, rural America is still struggling behind their metropolitan and urban counterparts.

To read the rest of the USDA-ERS report, Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition, click here.