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Rural employment risks created by COVID-19

Soon after the pandemic hit early in 2020, the Center on Rural Innovation team wondered what this additional layer of economic strife might do to rural communities. This led to the creation of an Employment Risk Index and an accompanying map.

Long before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the health and economy of our country, rural America has been struggling. As tech jobs and opportunities abounded in urban areas, the industries that once employed many people in rural areas have long been declining. Digital infrastructure has also lagged, sending many young people to look for work outside of the places they grew up.

The index ranks counties by how vulnerable they are to losing jobs based on three factors relevant to the COVID crisis: employment in high-risk industries, employment in small businesses, and age of workforce. As this analysis in 2020 reveals, rural America was facing a disproportionately high risk in the immediate wake of COVID-19.

The County Risk Employment Map revealed the communities that were most at risk at this point in time, and many of those communities were rural, reaffirming the need to diversify industries in these parts of the country and build inclusive and resilient digital economies.

About our work

The Center on Rural Innovation builds data-driven maps, tools, and resources that highlight rural America’s opportunities and challenges. To learn more about our work, visit our data and mapping page.

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