Strong U.S. economy hides rural struggle

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Unemployment’s down, and the number of workers is up. But, new numbers may be covering up a bleaker picture of our shared economy.

President Donald Trump’s administration said there’s plenty to be thankful for in the new jobs numbers from October. “Right now, the economy is running about as hot as it has in my lifetime,” said Chief Economic Advisor Kevin Hassett.

Hassett highlighted historically low unemployment in just about every state; only Vermont saw its workforce shrink over the last 12 months and that despite an unemployment rate below three percent.

“I’m not really sure what’s going on up in Vermont,” Hassett said with a laugh.

Many rural areas are struggling to get back to where they were before the 2008 economic crash – with fewer workers making less stuff. Their challenges though are masked by the tremendous growth in urban areas, with the newest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics continuing to show dramatically dividing trends between cities and small towns.

“The good news is, that by having the tax cuts and the deregulation, manufacturing is really taking off,” said Hassett. That, he argues, should help pull rural areas out of their funk.

But data-crunchers who served under President Obama aren’t forecasting a backwoods bounce-back. “It’s really hard to see how, for a lot of rural areas, they’re going to compete,” said Devin O’Connor. The former analyst in the Office of Management and Budget now works as the deputy director of the Committee for Economic Development – a non-profit policy organization.

O’Connor said rural areas that are doing well generally have either natural resources – like oil -- or draw tourists. Elsewhere, workforces are growing older as young adults leave for jobs in big cities. “In a number of rural areas, we’re seeing really tough patterns and really tough times,” O’Connor said.

These experts said the U.S. needs to continue adding more than a million workers a year for the economy to stay on-track. But if those jobs don’t materialize locally, some communities may be left behind

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