When the U.S. labor market is discussed, the national figures naturally take center stage. But the employment picture across the country can be very different — not just between states, but from city to city, too. The recent jobs figures for February show a great variation among the country’s largest metropolitan areas. While some are doing extremely well, others are plagued with astronomical unemployment rates that are getting even worse.
The five worst-off metropolitan regions had unemployment rates of 17.6% or more in February — more than double the national unemployment rate of 8.7%. Meanwhile, the five best regions had unemployment rates of 4.2% or less — less than half the national average. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the jobs market conditions in the five best and five worst-off cities.
Between February 2011 and February 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the non-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate nationwide fell from 9.5% to 8.7%. In most of the nation’s largest metropolitan regions, the jobless rate followed a similar pattern. However, in 19 cities — the majority of which are in New York State — the jobless rate worsened rather than improved.
When examining just the cities with the highest unemployment rates, it is not surprising to find that they, too, are bucking the national trend, improving at a considerably slower rate than the national average. In one case, Yuma, Ariz., unemployment did not improve at all, and even got worse, increasing by 9.2% in one year.
Similarly, the regions with the lowest jobless rates generally improved at an even higher rate than the national average. This was the case in four of these five metropolitan regions. Unemployment in Midland, Tex., which already had the fourth-lowest rate in the country in February 2011, fell — that is, improved — by nearly 20% in 12 months.
While local jobs markets can vary wildly, depending on the regional economy, the state unemployment rate is usually a good indicator for the city. This helps to explain why four of the five cities with the highest unemployment are in California. The Golden State has suffered from high unemployment and currently has the third-highest jobless rate among all states. Conversely, the cities with low unemployment are in states such as Kansas and Iowa, which have extremely low unemployment.
The reason most of these regions have the best or worst job markets has much to do with how hard they were hit during the recession. Four out of the five cities with low unemployment lost less than 5% of total jobs from their prerecession peak. All five of the regions with the highest unemployment lost at least 6% of jobs. Yuba City, Calif., shed 14.8% of its jobs during that period.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Local Area Unemployment Statistics figures for February 2011 and February 2012. This survey includes labor force statistics such as the size of the labor force, the number of people employed, and the unemployment rate for 372 of the nation’s metropolitan statistical areas. All of the unemployment figures we use, including the national average, are not seasonally adjusted. We also looked at IHS Global Insight’s report on the number of jobs lost by these regions during the recession, and how many of these jobs are projected to recover by the end of this year.