Special Report

Cities With the Worst COVID-19 Unemployment Crisis Right Now

Source: Archedamian / Wikimedia Commons

25. Decatur, IL
> Sept. 2020 unemployment rate: 11.1%
> 1 yr. employment change: -7.5%
> Largest industry: Manufacturing (21.6% of local jobs)
> Population: 104,009

The COVID-19 pandemic took a considerable toll on the economy in Decatur, Illinois. The local unemployment rate more than tripled from 4.7% in March 2020 to 17.0% the following month. Though the local jobless rate has improved considerably since then, declining to 11.1% in September, it remains among the highest of any U.S. metro area. Employment in the area’s leisure and hospitality and information industries has fallen by a third and a quarter, respectively, compared to the same time last year.

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24. Ocean City, NJ
> Sept. 2020 unemployment rate: 11.1%
> 1 yr. employment change: -16.8%
> Largest industry: Leisure and hospitality (33.4% of local jobs)
> Population: 92,039

In Ocean City, located in southern New Jersey along the Atlantic coast, tourism is an economic pillar. Over one third of the local workforce is employed in the leisure and hospitality industry, which is also the industry that has been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. From September 2019 to September 2020, the number of leisure and hospitality jobs in Ocean City fell by 28.6%, contributing to the spike in the city’s unemployment rate from 7.3% to 11.1% over the same period.

Though Ocean City’s jobless rate is higher than that of most U.S. metro areas, it has improved considerably in recent months. In June 2020, over a quarter of the local labor force was unemployed.

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23. Brownsville-Harlingen, TX
> Sept. 2020 unemployment rate: 11.2%
> 1 yr. employment change: -6.1%
> Largest industry: Education and health services (29.3% of local jobs)
> Population: 423,163

The Brownsville-Harlingen metro area, the southernmost in Texas, has a near nation-leading 11.2% unemployment rate. Over the past year, due in large part to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the area shed nearly 9,000 jobs, and the September 2019 unemployment rate of 5.5% more than doubled.

The industries hit hardest in the area were leisure and hospitality, which reported an 18.1% employment decline, and information, which shed about 14.3% of its workers.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

22. New Bedford, MA
> Sept. 2020 unemployment rate: 11.2%
> 1 yr. employment change: -7.7%
> Largest industry: Education and health services (25.9% of local jobs)
> Population: N/A

The 11.2% unemployment rate in New Bedford is the highest in Massachusetts and the entire Northeast region. Only a year ago, the local jobless rate was just 4.4%. After the COVID-19 pandemic reached American shores, however, unemployment spiked in New Bedford, reaching a peak of 22.3% in April.

The local industries that contracted the most in the past year were leisure and hospitality, which shed 23.6% of its workforce, followed by miscellaneous services, which reported a 20.0% decline in employment. However, education and health care, the largest industry in the area, reported just 2.9% decline in employment.

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21. Madera, CA
> Sept. 2020 unemployment rate: 11.3%
> 1 yr. employment change: -4.0%
> Largest industry: Government (28.1% of local jobs)
> Population: 157,327

The unemployment rate in Madera, California, stands at 11.3% — well above the 6.7% rate at the beginning of the year, but a considerable improvement from the 16.0% peak in April and May.

Like many of the California metro areas on this list, Madera is still struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and businesses are suffering as a result. The broader Madera County is under the tightest restrictions laid out by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The restrictions dictate that most nonessential and indoor businesses are to remain closed.