If jobs are the primary measure of the strength of the American economy, the economy is colossally strong. In March, America added another 236,000 jobs, keeping up a string of muscular job reports that goes back over a year. The unemployment rate is 3.5%, nearly the lowest in five decades. (These industries are laying off the most workers.)
Some economists believe the jobs numbers are the calm before the storm. The more people who have jobs, the more pressure there is on the prices of goods and services people use every day. That means inflation. Inflation triggers higher interest rates. Higher interest rates slow the economy. A slowing economy means layoffs. Each month experts say this string of events is just around the corner. Every month it is not.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks unemployment rates for cities and states. The data usually lags the national figure by a few weeks. The February data showed that the jobless rate was lower, compared to the same month of last year, in 228 of the 389 metropolitan areas. It was also higher in 131 metros and unchanged in 30.
There was a considerable difference from city to city, compared to the national number. The lowest rate was in Ames, Iowa, and Madison, Wisconsin, both at 1.9%. That means nearly everyone in these cities had a job, when accounting for people moving from job to job.
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The city with the highest unemployment rate was El Centro, California, at 15.6%, over four times the national average. The labor force in the city was 71,670. The number of people out of work was 11,180. Several cities nearby also have high jobless rates. In Merced, the figure is 10.5%, and in Hanford it is 9.2%
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El Centro is on the Mexican border, across from Mexicali. One reason for the high jobless rate is that the economy is dominated by agriculture, the employment of which is seasonal. High levels of drought have not helped.
The factors that make the El Centro jobless rates high will not go away, so the number will not change much going forward.
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