Despite many in the United States still feeling the pinch, there’s no denying that the job market is improving. Last week, the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low of 330,000. The current unemployment rate, five years after the start of the Great Recession, was 7.8% last month. At the height of the recession, it was 10%.
Despite the fact the general job market is improving, the unemployment rate in certain metro areas continue to be awful. Based on the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 metro areas with the highest unemployment rates in the country.
Two of the cities on this list, Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Ocean City, New Jersey, were in the path of Superstorm Sandy, which hit at the end of October of last year. Unemployment skyrocketed in November in both cities. In Ocean City, the jobless rate jumped from 11.8% in October to 14.5% in November.
While some of this jump may be the result of the storm preventing accurate data collection, BLS economist Tom Krolik explained that the responses in their monthly survey were sufficient enough to conclude that the increase in unemployment was a real one. The increase was likely caused by the storm itself closing down businesses at least temporarily and in many cases for the long term. “If you want to attribute the increase in Atlantic City-Hammonton to any one thing” Krolik added, “it would be the impact of the storm.”
Krolik told 24/7 Wall St. that a short-term jump in unemployment was a common trend in disaster affected areas. Once the rebuilding process has had a chance to work, unemployment would likely decline.
While this may be good news for the long-term prospects of such cities, there is also bad news. Unemployment has been extremely high in the area long before the recession hit. In When 24/7 Wall St. last spoke to BLS chief regional economist Martin Kohli he explained that the Atlantic CIty economy was in bad shape long before Sandy hit the coast. One of the reasons for this, according to Kohli, was the state’s gaming industry, which was hit hard by the recession, and has recovered slowly.
The remaining metropolitan areas with high unemployment are located in southern or central California, or southern Arizona. These areas, unlike the New Jersey cities, have low income populations and extremely high poverty rates. In El Centro, California, which had the second-highest unemployment rate in the country of 27.5% in November, more than one quarter of the population is living below the poverty line.
According to Krolik, one of the characteristics that distinguishes these areas from the rest of the country is their disproportionately rural populations and the high proportion of people employed in the highly seasonal agriculture sector. In five of these regions, more than 10% of the working population was employed in the industry, compared to the less than 2% of workers nationwide. In Visalia-Porterville, California, which had an unemployment rate of 14.5% in November, close to one out of every five jobs was in agriculture at the most recent Census count.
Based on the latest monthly data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for November, 2012 — the most recent month of available data by metropolitan statistical area — 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 metropolitan statistical areas with the highest unemployment rates. We also included U.S. Census Bureau data for poverty, income, high school and college attainment levels, and employment by sector, all from 2011.