High unemployment rates can cause more damage to an economy than you may realize. When the unemployment rates rise, many people begin relocating to areas with more readily-available jobs. Unattached singles are especially prone to moving, but if jobs don't become more plentiful in major cities, even married couples with children think about hitting the road. (More than just crunching numbers, this career blends detective work with trouble shooting. Read on to find out why Accounting Is Not Just For Nerds Anymore.)

State by State
Rural areas and small towns often have some of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota and New Hampshire report the lowest rural employment rates, although rural areas have also been hit by the recession.
Among states, South Dakota had the lowest jobless rate at 3% this year. Wyoming came in second (3.1%), followed by North Dakota (3.2%), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

BusinessWeek magazine lauded Bismarck, ND, in August for its 3.6% unemployment rate, the lowest in the country. The city, the magazine noted, is blessed with sizable government employment, four colleges and a booming wind energy business. However, low unemployment in rural towns can hide the fact that many rural natives are moving out due to lack of opportunities.

Before You Start Packing
If you're considering moving to a small town, think about its prospects for future employment growth as well as its quality of life. With that in mind, the following list ranks some of the best small town and rural places to live, based on prospects for future job growth and quality life issues, including education, crime rate, recreation and other factors.

  1. Louisville, Colorado - The town of 18,800 at the RockyMountain foothills impresses visitors with its historic downtown, summer street fairs and proximity to ski resorts and mountain trails. High tech, energy and health care industries keep unemployment down.

  2. Benton City, Washington - The area in Eastern Washington (pop 2,800) has some of the highest projected job growth in the country, and is one of the most educated rural areas in the nation.

  3. Chanhassen, Minnesota - An abundance of lakes and parks, a large arboretum and winter sports offer plenty to do, and unemployment is well under the national average.

  4. Papillion, Nebraska - Unemployment is just 4.5%, and crime is also low. The town is in the middle of a downtown revitalization, which includes building a performance arts center and AAA baseball stadium.

  5. Middleton, Wisconsin - This city boasts a stable economy, excellent schools and a large network of parks, bike paths and trails. A mixed use community inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and development for upscale stores and restaurants are underway.

  6. Greenacres, Washington - With a population of 7,112, it's a great place for families with children, has good public schools, large population of college-educated adults, and a high homeownership rate.

  7. Horse Creek, Wyoming - The unincorporated area in South Eastern Wyoming has a very low crime rate and is an easy drive to Cheyenne and Laramie, home of the University of Wyoming.

  8. Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (Mica and RockfordBay) - The rural area around Coeur d'Alene boasts great fishing, wonderful scenery and a job market with strong potential.

Everybody has an opinion on the best rural places to live and the locations with the best job prospects, but lists like these can be a great starting point when planning your new home. Keep in mind that unemployment opportunities change as business close, and rural areas are not immune to the recession. (The misery index measures a combination of unemployment and inflation, but what does it mean for your finances? Find out in The Misery Index: Measuring Your Misfortune.)

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