The recession has passed for most of America as unemployment has dropped to a traditional recovery level of 5.5%. Most months, the economy adds 200,000 jobs or more. The residents of several cities, mostly concentrated in central California and southern New Jersey, have not been so fortunate. They are among the 16 American metro areas where the jobless rate remains in the double digits.
Most of these cities are in the inland valleys of California, where the agriculture industry has been ruined, to a great extent because of drought, and almost all forecasts indicate that the drought will persist. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of these cities suffer from “exceptional drought,” the worst level. El Centrino has an unemployment rate of nearly four times the national average, at 21.3%, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics measures for February. The number has barely changed since the same month a year ago.
The jobless rate is 11.1% in Bakersfield, 12.1% in Fresno, 12.9% in Hanford, 11.8% in Madera, 14% in Merced, 11.1% in Modesto, 12.2% in San Diego-Carlsbad, 10.2% in Santa Cruz, 10.6% in Stockton, 13.9% in Visalia and 12.2% in Yuba City. Many of these cities have median incomes well below the national average. The drought has begun to trigger water restrictions in some of these areas.
According to recent research on the drought problem:
A new report from the University of California, Davis, shows that California agriculture is weathering its worst drought in decades due to groundwater reserves, but the nation’s produce basket may come up dry in the future if it continues to treat those reserves like an unlimited savings account.
The UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences study, released today at a press briefing in Washington, D.C., updates estimates on the drought’s effects on Central Valley farm production, presents new data on the state’s coastal and southern farm areas, and forecasts the drought’s economic fallout through 2016.
The study found that the drought — the third most severe on record — is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture, with river water for Central Valley farms reduced by roughly one-third.
Groundwater pumping is expected to replace most river water losses, with some areas more than doubling their pumping rate over the previous year, the study said. More than 80 percent of this replacement pumping occurs in the San Joaquin Valley and Tulare Basin.
One other large pocket of high unemployment is in Atlantic City, where unemployment is 12.5%. The casino industry has withered rapidly there. Ocean City sits just south of Atlantic City, and its unemployment rate is 18.0%. The unemployment rate in Vineland, just inland from Atlantic City, is 11.2%.
The final city with a double-digit unemployment rate is Yuma, Ariz., which is another city with low median income.
Almost all these cities not only have high unemployment, but also jobless rates that are unlikely to improve.