The Bureau of Labor Statistics just released its unemployment numbers for America’s 389 metro areas for the month of October. The trend was generally positive. Unemployment for the month was down in 240 metro areas compared to October 2018. Unemployment in scores of cities was below the national average of 3.3%. However, in one city, the figure was 21.2%, or over six times the national average.
El Centro, CA has the highest jobless figure in the nation, by far. The next city on the high unemployment list is Yuma, AZ at 16.1%. For purposes of contrast, the two cities with the lowest jobless rates in October were Ames, IA, and Burlington-South Burlington, VT, both at 1.3%.
The labor force in El Centro is 73,767. Of that population 15,651 have no jobs. The city is among the smaller metros in the U.S. ranked 232nd by total population. It sits just across the Mexican border city of Mexicali, one of the largest cities in that part of Mexico.
El Centro has several of the hallmarks of cities with high unemployment. The poverty rate is 24.9%, according to the Census Bureau. Median household income is $43,581, much lower than the national figure of $63,179. Just over eighty-five percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino.
According to the LA Times, El Centro is a center for lettuce growers. Mark Schniepp, director of the California Economic Forecast, told the paper, “That’s just life as an agricultural worker – you work seven months out of the year, the other five months you file for unemployment.” There is little evidence that new industry will locate in the area and create new jobs.
One of the ironies of the jobless rate in El Centro is that it is only a little more than 100 miles from San Diego, where the unemployment rate was only 2.8% in October. Due to its place on the Pacific, among other things, the U.S.Navy employs nearly 30,000 people in the city. The University of California employees over 28,000. The city is also a center for healthcare. Sharp HealthCare, Kaiser Permanente, and Scripps Health each employ thousand of people. THe low jobless rate shows the benefits of a diversified economy.
El Centro is mired in a multi-decade jobless problem. Unemployment could stay the worst of any American city for a long time.