California Cities Lead Unemployment While Midwest Towns Thrive

The U.S. national unemployment rate for August of 9.6% is pretty bad. But it both underestimates and overestimates what's going on in cities across the country. A report released today on about the job market picture in 372 metropolitan statistical areas by the Bureau of Labor Statistics helps to paint a broader picture of what's going on. Some cities are doing much better than the national average, while others are doing much worse.

The national unemployment rate hasn't changed much year-over-year, falling from 9.7% in August 2009 to 9.6% in August 2010. But some cities have seen their labor markets improve while others worsened. In fact 179 of the MSAs had growth in their number of employed workers, while 184 saw their number of employed workers shrink. The other nine were unchanged.

The Midwest accounts for some of the most resilient job markets. Of the 15 MSAs with the lowest unemployment rate, 11 were in the Midwest. Here's a list of the top 20:

msa best 20 2010-08 v2.png

You can also see that most of these MSAs saw their unemployment rates decline over the past year, which is pretty impressive considering how low they were to begin with.

For the worst labor markets, California clearly leads the way. This time, the state was responsible of 11 of the worst 15 MSAs. Florida also had a several MSAs with very high unemployment, with 4 in the worst 20. Here's the chart:

MSA worst 20 2010-08 v2.png

These unemployment rates are pretty awful, as all are above 14%, with the two worst above 30%. In this case, all but three have seen their unemployment rates worsen over the course of the year. This is probably due in part to continued real estate market troubles in many of these cities.

In terms of the job markets that deteriorated the most over the past year, the list is different. Here's the 10 MSAs that saw the biggest percentage year-over-year decline in employed workers:

MSA 10 decline 2010-08.png

You can see some continued housing market troubles at work here, but the reasons for these cities struggles are not as clearly connected to real estate as the previous list.

Finally, BLS provides this map, which gives a visual representation of which MSAs are having the most trouble:

msa unemployment map 2010-08.png

Presented by

Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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