In 2016, large and medium-sized metro areas had median wages and salaries above $40,000, compared to $37,000 for the nation as a whole. And though all types of urban counties had higher wages and salaries than the national median, only one kind of rural county did: large rural counties next to a metro area, Florida reports.
"Interestingly enough, large rural counties—both those that are adjacent to metro areas and those that aren’t—had wages and salaries that were comparable to counties in small metro areas. And some rural counties had median wages and salaries that were quite high," Florida reports. "Butte County, Idaho, a small rural county adjacent to a metro, had a median salary of nearly $90,000 . . . This can be traced to high levels of employment in the government sector, particularly in the Idaho National Lab. North Slope Borough County, Alaska, a medium-sized rural county that is not adjacent to a metro area, had a median wage and salary of nearly $100,000 ($99,283), largely because of the oil and natural-gas development there."
Though urban counties have higher median pay, pay in rural counties is growing faster. "Between 2001 and 2016, wages grew by roughly 50 percent across all counties. Most types of rural counties saw wage growth above the national average, while all types of urban counties had below-average gains," Florida reports. "In fact, the smallest and most isolated rural places—small rural counties that are not adjacent to a major metro area—posted the highest wage growth of all, nearly 60 percent."
Moreover, nearly a quarter of small rural counties not next to a metro county are in the top 10 percent of counties on wage growth. "So do 18 percent of small rural counties that are adjacent to a metro, and 11 percent of medium-size rural counties that are not adjacent to a metro," Florida reports. "This compares to just 4 percent of urban counties in large metros, 2 percent of urban counties in medium-sized metros, and 5 percent of counties in small metros."