Job creation effects are examined as they would apply to social analysis of rural development programming by public or private sector agencies. A synthesis and critique are provided of approaches to valuing the social opportunity cost of labor. These approaches vary according to whether or not unemployment is present in the pre-project state and according to whether or not there is interregional migration in response to project hiring. Graphical, partial equilibrium analysis illustrates why, in general, job creation and project employment give rise to social costs, not benefits. The magnitude of these social costs is shown to depend upon the presence of payroll taxes, wage subsidies and unemployment, in addition to the market's supply and demand elasticities. These social costs may be reduced or offset in specific instances where projects increase the value of labor's productivity or reduce its costs, such as with job training, worker mobility and skill development projects. Careful attention to these approaches can help society choose correctly among alternative development proposals and among alternative (labor-intensive versus capital-intensive) technologies. © 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.