Rural vs. Urban unemployment turned on head

The effect of COVID-19 on Arkansas’ unemployment rate in April varied by county, but also turned the typical rural versus urban unemployment rate trend on its head, according to a study released by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. 
Wayne Miller, extension economist for the Division of Agriculture, is author of the study, “The COVID-19 Pandemic Affects Unemployment in Arkansas Counties Differently,” can be downloaded at
The department’s faculty are part of the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences and the Division of Agriculture.
Arkansas’ economy is familiar territory for Miller, who is also author of the  bi-annual “Rural Profile of Arkansas,” a key work for policymakers.
“The number of unemployed grew faster in urban counties” resulting in an urban unemployment rate of 10.8 percent, compared to the rural unemployment rate of 10 percent, Miller said. “Historically unemployment rates have been higher in rural counties.” 
Miller noted that in rural counties, the unemployment rate varied from a little more than 5 percent in Arkansas County to 16 percent in Cleburne County.
“One possible reason for the high unemployment rate in Cleburne County is that the county economy relies heavily on the travel and tourism industry, which has been affected by the travel restrictions related to COVID-19,” he said.
Other rural counties with high unemployment rates approaching 14 percent are Chicot, Phillips and Izard counties.
“Although their unemployment rates increased between March and April of this year, these three counties had much higher unemployment rates than the statewide average even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Miller said. 
Larger picture
The unemployment rates only tell part of the story of COVID-19’s impacts, Miller said. 
“If we include those who dropped out of the labor force between March and April as part of the labor force and include them in the unemployment count, we get a somewhat different picture of unemployment in Arkansas,” he said. “The Arkansas ‘adjusted’ unemployment rate jumps from 10.2 percent to 14.6 percent in April 2020.”
The difference between urban and rural counties is smaller, with rural counties having a slightly higher average unemployment rate at 14.8 percent, compared to the urban counties at 14.5 percent, Miller said.
Drew County’s unemployment percentage is the same as the state wide percentage.
To learn about Division of Agriculture publications, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.

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