It can be tempting to look across the economic landscape and think that the differing fortunes of varying ethnicities, genders and geographies represent deep Manichean forces. The structure of today’s high-tech and service-oriented economy seems geared towards whites, women, and urbanites. By implication, that same structure is working against minorities, rural Americans, and men. As I like to say, however, the structure of the economy is cyclical.
In January Jennifer Rubin wrote
So if voters in Trump country feel as though they are losing, they likely are.
In short, the population in big cities gets bigger and richer, while the population in smaller cities and rural areas shrinks and gets poorer. Trump’s “solution” was to scapegoat foreigners and blame elites, while increasing the divide with a tax plan heavily tilted to the rich. He is selling small-town and rural residents a bill of goods — or rather, raising the price of goods, by tariffs.
That was true from 2010 all the way up until 2016, the data that Rubin had available. The latest figures for 2017 paint a different story. The Brookings Institution supplies the following chart
Employment growth in the light blue non-metro areas continued to lag through the beginning of 2017 but accelerated near the end and ended up exceeding that of even large cities. At the start of 2017 rural areas accounted for 12.4% of the nation’s employment, but over the course of 2017 they accounted for 16.6% of employment growth.
I am sure Trump’s fans would like to attribute that to his policies. The Brookings Institution essentially chalks it up to good lunch. Both, I think, miss the mark. As the economy tightens employers become more desperate. They open facilities in places they would have previously ignored and they give hiring bonuses to employees they wouldn’t have previously given the time of day.
Now, long-term demographics imply that rural areas aren’t going to beat metropolitan areas in job growth. They simply don’t have the population growth. However, that doesn’t mean that the fortunes of the people who do live in rural areas can’t markedly improve. They just need a red-hot economy to do it.