The rural economy has diversified substantially since the mid-20th century. While jobs in the agricultural sector are on the decline, jobs in manufacturing, retail sales and educational services are on the rise.
The largest segment of the civilian workforce in rural counties (22.3 percent) is employed in education services, health care and social assistance industry, according to the newly-released American Community Survey five-year statistics. They work in schools, hospitals and home health care. Employment in this industry is more dependent on changing demographics than on access to natural resources. Nationwide, increases in school enrollment and an aging population are driving up the demand for educators and health care workers in rural and urban areas alike.
Another 11.3 percent of the workforce is employed in retail trade. A smaller share is in finance, wholesale trade and information industries.
While no longer the top rural industries, farming and manufacturing still play an important role. In rural areas, 12.4 percent work in manufacturing, including assemblers and fabricators, production workers and managers.
One out of 10 workers is employed in areas more commonly associated with the rural economy – agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting and mining.
Manufacturing is less prominent in rural counties in the West. In contrast, a large percentage of the civilian workforce in rural counties in the Midwest and West is employed in more traditional rural industries.