Unemployment and Underemployment
Vernon M. Briggs, Jr.
Despite both the size and importance of the nonmetro sector of the economy, its human resource needs have long been neglected. As of 1976, almost one-quarter of the nation's population lived in nonmetro areas and one-third of its labor force worked there. Of even greater long-run consequence is that the nonmetro population, which was relatively stable between 1940 and 1970, has shown signs of increasing both its absolute size and relative share of the nation's population since 1970. This has led some observers to speak of a "rural renaissance" ( Martin, 1977: 217). The rapid rise of the rural nonfarm sector as a source both of residences and of employment has sparked the revival of the nonmetro economy, and this has led to a demand for more knowledge about both nonmetro workers and nonmetro labor markets.
To interpret the effectiveness of nonmetro labor markets for nonmetro workers, certain definitional concepts must be established. These concepts enable analysts to discern trends over time and policymakers to make decisions. The economic and political utility of these concepts, therefore, has often become intertwined. Unfortunately, the concepts used for analysis of nonmetro labor markets have tended to be transplanted from the study of the dominant metro economy, and the general result has been detrimental to the welfare of nonmetro workers and to an adequate understanding of the needs of nonmetro America.
The unemployment rate has become by far the most important of the economic indicators. It has been referred to as "the most important single statistic published by the federal government" ( President's Committee to Appraise Employment and Unemployment Statistics, 1962: 9). Not only has it become the standard for determining the inadequacy of the demand for labor and the slack utilization of the available labor supply, but, especially since the early 1970s, it