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Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics

November 2011

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Highlights:

Occupational Employment and Wage Patterns in Nonmetropolitan Areas

(PDF version)

This OES data highlight uses May 2010 estimates to examine occupational employment and wage patterns in nonmetropolitan areas 1. Employment patterns in nonmetropolitan areas (NMAs) are different from those in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in multiple ways. Some occupations are found mainly in nonmetropolitan areas, even though such areas account for just 13 percent of employment in the United States. On the other hand, there are several occupations that are almost never found in nonmetropolitan areas, and there are some occupations that are found in approximately the same proportions in both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas.

Tables 1 and 2 list the 10 occupations with the highest location quotients (LQs) for nonmetropolitan areas and metropolitan areas.

Table 1. Occupations with high location quotients in NMAs
OccupationNMA Location Quotient

Loading machine operators, underground mining


Mine shuttle car operators


Roof bolters, mining


Log graders and scalers


Logging equipment operators




Continuous mining machine operators


Forest and conservation technicians


Slaughterers and meat packers


Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Table 2. Occupations with high location quotients in MSAs
OccupationMSA Location Quotient

Subway and streetcar operators




Flight attendants


Semiconductor processors




Biochemists and biophysicists








Medical scientists, except epidemiologists


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Location quotients are useful for comparing the composition of jobs in an area relative to the average, or for finding areas that have high concentrations of jobs in certain occupations. As measured here, a location quotient shows the occupation’s share of an area’s employment relative to the national average. For example, a location quotient of 2.0 indicates that an occupation accounts for twice the share of employment in the area than it does nationally, and a location quotient of 0.5 indicates the area’s share of employment in the occupation is half the national share. Because the aggregated MSAs account for approximately 87 percent of total national employment, many of their location quotients are very close to 1. In contrast, NMAs have much greater variation in employment structure, thus reflecting the diversity and concentration of occupations in nonmetropolitan areas.

The occupational structure of nonmetropolitan areas exhibits several distinct patterns. Occupations that are more highly concentrated in nonmetropolitan areas tend to be production; extraction; farming, fishing, and forestry; or transportation and material moving occupations. Occupations with lower concentrations in nonmetropolitan areas tend to be arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media; business and financial operations; computer and mathematical; and life, physical, and social science occupations. There are some exceptions, but even within occupational groups found primarily in metropolitan areas, the individual occupations prevalent in nonmetropolitan areas are related to agriculture and natural resources. For example, the business-related occupations that are more heavily concentrated in nonmetropolitan areas include buyers and purchasing agents of farm products and farm labor contractors, and the science-related occupations in nonmetropolitan areas include agricultural and food science technicians, soil and plant scientists, zoologists and wildlife biologists, conservation scientists, and foresters.

Despite the differences between occupations concentrated in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas, there are some occupations that are found in approximately the same proportions in both types of areas. These occupations have location quotients close to 1 in both the metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas and include clergy, pharmacists, and speech-language pathologists. (See table 3.)

Table 3. Selected occupations with similar location quotients in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas
OccupationMSA Location QuotientNMA Location Quotient





Speech-language pathologists


Recreation workers




Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


A closer look at employment concentrations in nonmetropolitan areas reveals certain patterns in many individual areas. For example, although NMAs generally have a higher share of their employment in occupations related to agriculture, forestry, and natural resource extraction,2 most nonmetropolitan areas have high employment concentrations in just one or two of these sectors, and other NMAs have high location quotients in other sectors. Table 4 lists NMAs that have the highest location quotients for the occupations listed in table 2.

Table 4. NMAs with the highest location quotients for selected occupations
AreaOccupationEmploymentNMA Location Quotient

Eastern Utah

Loading machine operators, underground mining180154.6

East Kentucky

Mine shuttle car operators580205.6

East Kentucky

Roof bolters, mining840164.0

North Idaho

Log graders and scalers110118.5

Natchitoches, Louisiana

Logging equipment operators58039.3

Southwest Mississippi


Other Nevada

Continuous mining machine operators1,040198.4

Northern Mountains Region of California

Forest and conservation technicians1,50094.2

Southwest Minnesota

Slaughterers and meat packers3,13036.9

South Arkansas

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists5032.7

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Following the general occupational pattern for NMAs, the Eastern Utah NMA has a strong emphasis on mining and oil and gas extraction occupations. In addition to underground mining loading machine operators, the occupations with the highest location quotients are rotary drill operators, oil and gas; helpers—extraction workers; derrick operators, oil and gas; and earth drillers, except oil and gas. Similarly, the East Kentucky NMA has a high concentration of jobs in mining. In addition to mine shuttle car operators, the occupations with the highest location quotients in this area are roof bolters, mining; extraction workers, all other; continuous mining machine operators; and helpers—extraction workers. The North Idaho; Natchitoches, Louisiana; and Southwest Mississippi areas have high concentrations of workers in occupations related to forestry and logging. In addition to log graders and scalers, the North Idaho nonmetropolitan area has high concentrations of forest and conservation technicians and foresters.

Another way to find employment patterns in NMAs is to look for occupations that are in high concentrations in the majority of NMAs. For example, occupations that are frequently found in relatively high concentrations in nonmetropolitan areas include correctional officers and jailers, primary and secondary school teachers, counselors and social workers, court reporters, emergency medical technicians, animal control workers, and occupations concentrated in local government or the post office.

A less common pattern is that some states have nonmetropolitan areas that appear to be specialized in certain sectors. For instance, nonmetropolitan areas in Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, and North Carolina have higher concentrations of production employment. Another example is the science-oriented nonmetropolitan areas in Alaska, California, Idaho, and Montana.

Some nonmetropolitan areas are unique because they have relatively high shares of employment in occupations that are more commonly found in metropolitan areas. For example, areas in Alaska, Maryland, Hawaii, and New Mexico have high concentrations of occupations related to science, tourism, or technology. Tables 5, 6, and 7 show the diversity of employment in nonmetropolitan areas in Alaska, Maryland, and Hawaii.

Table 5. Selected occupations in Alaska with location quotients greater than 20
Area and OccupationEmploymentLocation Quotient

Railbelt / Southwest Alaska

Gaming and sports book writers and runners


Meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers


Ship engineers


Zoologists and wildlife biologists


Southeast Alaska

Captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels


Commercial pilots


Sailors and marine oilers


Ship engineers


Tour guides and escorts


Zoologists and wildlife biologists


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


The two NMAs in Alaska have high location quotients in occupations related to fishing, tourism, and the great outdoors. Both areas have high concentrations of zoologists and wildlife biologists as well as ship engineers. The areas differ in that the Southeast NMA has higher concentrations of tour guides and escorts; sailors and marine oilers; commercial pilots; and captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels, whereas the Railbelt/Southwest NMA has higher concentrations of gaming and sports book writers and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers.

In Hawaii, many of the occupations with high location quotients are related to travel and tourism. Dancers, as well as tour guides and escorts, have the highest LQs, 20.7 and 19.2, respectively. High location quotients do not necessarily imply high employment levels, especially for relatively small areas or occupations with low overall employment. For example, although anthropologists and archaeologists have an LQ of 6.0 in the nonmetropolitan area of Hawaii, the employment is still only 40.

Table 6. Selected occupations in Hawaii/Maui/Kauai with location quotients greater than 6
OccupationEmploymentLocation Quotient
Anthropologists and archeologists406.0
Captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels2106.2
Reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks9806.8
Transportation attendants, except flight attendants2307.7
Baggage porters and bellhops4809.1
Transportation security screeners (federal only)50010.0
Tour guides and escorts68019.2

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


The three NMAs in Maryland present a strong contrast to the areas in Alaska and Hawaii. Two of the areas in Maryland are similar: in both the Upper Eastern Shore and Garrett County, motorboat mechanics and service technicians is the occupation with the highest location quotient. A unique NMA is St. Mary’s County in Maryland, where aerospace engineers have the highest LQ (34.8) in the state as well as the highest LQ among all NMAs for this occupation. Other occupations with LQs over 30 are logisticians (32.5) and computer and information research scientists (30.5). The rest of the occupations presented in table 7 are engineering and business related, with technical writers rounding out the occupations shown.

Table 7. Selected occupations in Maryland with location quotients greater than 6
Area and OccupationEmploymentLocation Quotient

Upper Eastern Shore

Court reporters


Motorboat mechanics and service technicians


Garrett County, Maryland

Automotive and watercraft service attendants


Motorboat mechanics and service technicians


St. Mary's County, Maryland

Aerospace engineers


Computer and information research scientists


Computer hardware engineers


Electrical and electronics engineering technicians


Engineering technicians, except drafters, all other


Engineers, all other




Management analysts


Operations research analysts


Technical writers


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Wages in nonmetropolitan areas

Wages in nonmetropolitan areas tend to be lower than the national average. In fact, mean wages in all except eight nonmetropolitan areas are below the U.S. hourly mean of $21.35. Wages may be lower in most nonmetropolitan areas because workers in metropolitan areas have higher wages for the same occupations, because employment in nonmetropolitan areas tends to be in lower paying occupations, or through a combination of both factors. Nonmetropolitan areas with the highest wages are Los Alamos County, New Mexico; and St. Mary’s County, Maryland. (See table 8.) Both of these areas have high shares of high-paying science and engineering occupations.

Table 8. Nonmetropolitan areas with the highest all-occupations mean wages
AreaHourly mean wage

Los Alamos County, NM


St. Mary's County, MD


Railbelt/Southwest Alaska


North Central Massachusetts


Southeast Alaska


Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard


Western New Hampshire


Northwestern Connecticut


Mother Lode Region of California


Southwestern Wyoming


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


The aggregate metropolitan and nonmetropolitan location quotients are based on a special tabulation of May 2010 OES data performed for the purposes of this highlight; location quotients, employment levels, and wages for all occupations and individual areas are available at Complete May 2010 OES data are available from the OES home page at This highlight was prepared by John I. Jones. For more information, please contact the OES program at


1The OES program defines 170 nonmetropolitan areas, with each state having between 1 and 6 (except New Jersey, which has none). They may include micropolitan areas, but do not include any portion of a metropolitan statistical area. The largest nonmetropolitan area is in Kansas and covers employment of more than 375,000. The smallest nonmetropolitan areas are in Rhode Island and parts of Maryland, Massachusetts, and California and have fewer than 15,000 covered workers each.
2The program does not survey farms, but it does cover agriculture support services; logging; and federal, state, and local government, which employ workers in farming and forestry-related occupations.


Last Modified Date: November 9, 2011