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Report: Workers in Rural America Almost Just as Likely to Have Well-Paying Jobs, Amid Racial and Gender Disparities

Workers in rural America are almost just as likely to have good jobs as those in urban areas but face a number of distinct disparities as well, according to a recent report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).Martin Van Der WerfMartin Van Der Werf

The report, Small Towns, Big Opportunities, categorizes what constitutes a “good job” as a one that pays a minimum of – in 2022 dollars – approximately $43,000 for workers ages 25 to 44 and a minimum of approximately $55,000 for workers ages 45 to 64.

Contrary to stereotypes of a struggling, dated rural America, CEW researchers found that there is solid work to be had there. Per their criteria for a good job, researchers found that workers in the rural U.S. hold a proportionate share of good jobs – they make up 13% of the U.S. workforce (14.9 million out of 119 million) and hold 12% of good jobs in the country (7.4 million out of 63.3 million).

This finding came as a surprise, said report co-author Martin Van Der Werf, director of editorial and education policy for the CEW.

“You would think that people move to the cities and they have most of the best jobs and – I'm using a stereotype here – you would think [rural areas] might trail significantly behind,” Van Der Werf told Diverse. “But what we found is that 50% of jobs in rural areas are good jobs and 54% of urban jobs are good jobs. So they're comparable between rural and urban areas after you adjust for the cost of living.”

However, that’s not to say that everyone in rural areas has a fair shot at these good jobs. Similar to urban areas, men held a disproportionate number of good jobs in rural areas, according to the report. Despite making up 52% of the 25-to-64-year-old workforce in these regions, men hold 63% of the good jobs. This proportion makes them equal to men in urban areas – 52% of the workforce and 60% of good jobs – but outpace the percentage of women with good jobs in rural areas.

Women comprise 48% of the rural workforce but only 37% of the good jobs go to them, researchers found. This means they have it tougher in rural American than they do in urban settings, where they are 48% of the labor and have 40% of the good jobs there.

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