The national unemployment rate dropped to 5.5% in March. In February, the most recent month in which cities were measured, the jobless rate in El Centro, Calif., was 21.3%, the only city where the jobless rate is still above 20%. It is also located at the center of the California drought map, in the state’s central valley, where the agriculture industry is a primary employer. The city is in a perfect storm of the worst of the American economy.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that California’s area of exceptional drought, the highest designation given, runs from the north of the state at the Nevada border, down the middle of the state to the Pacific Coast, as far south as Los Angeles. The area is so large, it is no wonder that the state government has mandated a 25% cut in water usage. Fortunately, these restrictions do not apply to the agriculture community, according to The Washington Post. That is only mild comfort to people in the central valley of the state, where the drought has persisted for four years. At the University of California, Davis, researchers issued a report in 2014 that said that drought conditions would cost 17,000 jobs and trigger an economic cost of $2.2 billion.
The El Centro metropolitan area has a working population of 66,700 among all the industries measured. A fifth of those are part of the farm economy. Over 24% of individuals live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau.
It is hard to imagine that the employment level in El Centro will improve much, not only based on the current situation, but also based on recent history. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Economic Data (FRED) shows unemployment reached 29.5% in December 2010. Even during the best years of the 2006 national recovery, the figure was 14.6% in March.
For the people in El Centro, it is a question of just how horrible any given month is in terms of unemployment.