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Arkansas' Rural Employment Below Pre-recession Levels

by Wayne Miller - July 17, 2018

Arkansas’ rural counties haven't seen their employment rates return to pre-recession levels, according to analysis of employment data from 2008 to 2016.

During that eight-year period, total employment in Arkansas grew by 3.2 percent compared to a national growth of 4.2 percent. But Arkansas' rural counties lost more than 17,000 jobs or 2.9 percent of their employment. Fifty-two counties, or 84 percent of rural Arkansas counties, lost jobs during this period.

This is in contrast to urban counties in the state, which gained nearly 67,000 jobs or a growth of 6.8 percent during the same time period.

All three rural regions of the state lost employment from 2008 to 2016:

  • The Coastal Plains region lost 6.1% of its jobs
  • The Highlands region lost 2.3% of its jobs
  • The Delta region lost 1.9 % of its jobs

The employment decline seen in rural Arkansas counties was the result of structural changes in rural economies.

Declining manufacturing employment has been a major contributor to the decline. Rural counties lost more than 15,600 manufacturing jobs between 2008 and 2016, a 17% decline.

All rural regions lost manufacturing jobs, ranging from a loss of 21.3% in the Coastal Plains to 17.8% and 11.3% in the Highlands and Delta regions respectively. The decline in employment in Arkansas’ rural counties requires new strategies to create employment opportunities for rural residents.

The Cooperative Extension Service's Community and Economic Development unit publishes The Rural Profile of Arkansas, summarizing government, economy, health and education trends across the state. This latest data showing rural employment levels from 2008 to 2016 will be included in the 2019 Rural Profile of Arkansas.

For more information on employment changes in Arkansas, read the 2017 Rural Profile of Arkansas at or contact Wayne Miller at


Map of Arkansas graphic showing employment levels between 2008-2016