Special Report

American Cities Losing the Most Jobs

The United States has created more than 10 million jobs in the past four years. Over this time, the unemployment rate fell from 8.2% to 4.9%, the lowest in nearly a decade.

In most U.S. cities, the story is the same. A majority of metropolitan areas have added jobs in recent years, and most reported declines in unemployment. In 56 metro areas, however, total employment fell over the last four years. The Atlantic City-Hammonton metro area had the largest employment decline, with the number of jobs dropping by 6.8% since June 2012.

Changes in an area’s total number of jobs are often largely explained by the industrial composition of a city’s economy. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Martin Kohli, chief regional economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said, “Different industries tend to expand at different rates.” He added that in the United States today, “energy prices are depressed, and that means slower metropolitan area growth in areas that have large concentrations of energy extraction industries.”

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Since 2012, employment in the mining and logging industry fell by 19.7% nationwide. Mining and logging was the only industry to shrink in the last four years at the national level, hurting the economies of many metropolitan areas dependent on the sector. In close to one third of the metro areas where employment declined in the last four years, the mining, logging, and construction sectors employ a larger share of the area workforce than the national proportion.

Relatively large job losses were also common in metropolitan area government sectors. Kohli explained that while no single explanation can account for local government job losses, sustained major financial distress during the recession is a likely factor for many of these areas. “The federal government has not really grown, in part because Congress and policymakers don’t want to spend more money on government salaries.” The same rationale likely holds in many of the metro areas shedding the most jobs.

People usually do not move to an area unless there are jobs or some other opportunity available, and therefore population and employment changes are closely related. In nearly every city where employment fell over the past four years, the population also declined significantly. The opposite was the case in metro areas adding jobs, most notably cities in the southern and southwestern regions of the country.

“The southern and southwestern parts of the country have been growing much more rapidly than the northeastern part of the country, which [has led] to stronger job growth in the South and West,” Kohli said.

In some of the cities shedding jobs, employment fell even as the population expanded. In Casper, Wyoming, for example, the total number of jobs fell from 40,115 to 37,649, while the number of residents grew by 4.4%. In these relatively unusual cases, it seems people are moving into the area despite signs of a weak economy. In four of the metro areas where the population increased while jobs declined, the unemployment rate also rose over the past four years.

To identify the cities losing the most jobs, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 56 metropolitan statistical areas where the number people employed declined from June 2012 through June 2016. Employment levels are seasonally adjusted from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment rates and industry employment data also came from the BLS, and were seasonally adjusted. Population figures as of July 2012 and July 2015 came from the U.S. Census Bureau.

These are the cities losing the most jobs.