In February 2020, unemployment was at a five-decade low of 3.5%. It rose to a five-decade high at 14.2% in April, driven by the sudden start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A rapid rise in gross domestic product and consumer confidence has helped fuel the comeback.
Fast forward to today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has announced that the economy added 194,000 jobs in September. That was well below the 500,000 forecasts by economists. The national unemployment rate was 5.2%.
The BLS also provides unemployment data by state and metro area. In its Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment Summary, the bureau observed:
“Unemployment rates were lower in August than a year earlier in 385 of the 389 metropolitan areas, higher in 3 areas, and unchanged in 1 area, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. A total of 43 areas had jobless rates of less than 3.0 percent and 4 areas had rates of at least 10.0 percent. Nonfarm payroll employment increased over the year in 104 metropolitan areas and was essentially unchanged in 285 areas.”
El Centro, California, had the highest rate at 19.4%. This contrasts to the city with the lowest rate, Lincoln, Nebraska, at 1.7%.
According to FRED, part of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, unemployment in El Centro has been extremely high for decades. In December 2010, the Great Recession drove its jobless level to over 30%. Since 1991, it has rarely been below 15%. El Centro city, at the center of the El Centro metropolitan statistical area, has a population of 44,079. Eighty-seven percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino. The household income is an unusually low $47,864.
The problem with El Centro shows the extent to which aid from the federal government has done little to reverse badly crippled local economies that have had nagging problems for years. Minority joblessness tends to be higher than White employment nationwide. The poverty this often causes lasts for several generations in families.