5. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
> February unemployment: 17.6%
> 12-month change in unemployment: -4.3%
The unemployment rate in Visalia-Porterville metropolitan area improved by only 4.3% from February 2011 to February 2012, nearly half the national average. This left the area with one of the highest overall unemployment rates in the country. The picture looks even worse considering that in the first two months of the year, the region shed 1,200 people from its labor force. The area also has one of the country’s weaker housing markets. In 2011, Visalia-Porterville had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.
4. Yuba City, Calif.
> February unemployment: 19.9%
> 12-month change in unemployment: -6.1%
In February 2011, the Yuba City metropolitan area had a jobless rate of 21.3%. This was, at the time, the third-highest rate of the country. By September, the unemployment rate had fallen to just 16.4%, but jumped again in the next six months to its current rate of just shy of 20%. This is partially due to an increase in the size of its labor force. The region has recovered a large part of its trade, transportation and utilities jobs, but could not offset the increase in the size of its labor force. The jobs markets in other sectors remain tight.
3. Merced, Calif.
> February unemployment: 20.0%
> 12-month change in unemployment: -4.8%
Merced, located in the San Joaquin Valley, was among the cities hit worst by the housing crisis and recession. Today, it remains one of three metropolitan areas with an astounding unemployment rate of 20% or more. Two factors are contributing to the region’s high unemployment. Not only has the labor force grown over the past six months, but the area also continues to lose jobs in a number of sectors. For example, over the past 12 months, jobs in the information sector and the financial activities sector decreased by 8.3% and 6.3%, respectively.
2. Yuma, Ariz.
> February unemployment: 23.7%
> 12-month change in unemployment: +9.2%
Yuma not only has the second-highest jobless rate among the 363 metropolitan regions, but it is also one of just a handful of cities to experience an increase in unemployment over the last year. Its February, 2011 unemployment rate of 21.7% increased to 23.7% by February, 2012. During the recession, Yuma lost 11.1% of its labor force, and will have recovered only 10% of that by the end of this year. In the past year, while the area’s labor force has dropped significantly, the number of available jobs has dropped even more. The number of trade, transportation and utilities jobs — the second-largest source of employment in the region — has fallen by nearly 10% in the past 12 months.
1. El Centro, Calif.
> February unemployment: 26.7%
> 12-month change in unemployment: -4.0%
The El Centro area has a mind-blowing unemployment rate of 26.7%, the highest in the country. This means that more than a quarter of the region’s labor force are unemployed. El Centro is a border city, and its economy relies heavily on agriculture — an industry that has shed jobs since the beginning of the recession. El Centro also was hit particularly hard by the housing crisis, which caused many residents working in construction to lose their jobs. In the past 12 months, the manufacturing sector has eliminated 11.1% of positions — the most of any sector.