Rural non-agricultural jobs grow to new highs

More and more rural Americans are working in industries outside of agriculture, a new report finds.

According to an analysis from CoBank and University of Missouri knowledge sharing, the share of agricultural employment in non-metro counties fell 8.9% between 1970 and 2019, a factor they attribute to “increasingly diverse employment opportunities as travel increases and development industrial sectors”.

The loss of jobs directly related to production agriculture was offset by job growth in services, including retail, restaurants and health care, which rose 17 percentage points over the period.

“This growth in service jobs has brought job opportunities for low-skilled workers, such as retail and restaurants, but there has also been a need for more skilled jobs in health care, business operations, information technology and finance,” – the report says. “Many of these jobs offered higher stable pay for farmers/ranchers and in turn became their primary source of income.”

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Broader employment trends show that the occupational diversity of these counties is growing, but the report notes that “geography and natural resources play a role in the development of non-metro regions.”

The report also found that off-farm income is becoming increasingly important for farms and ranches; additional income was a factor that encouraged alternative employment, but more reliable health care benefits were also key. According to the report, 82% of farm family income comes from off-farm sources.

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