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10 metros with biggest unemployment drops

4:55 PM, Apr 20, 2013   |    comments
Artist rendition of Ocean Towers at Hammock Beach in Palm Coast, Fla.(Photo: Hammock Beach)
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(USA TODAY) -- The U.S. unemployment rate fell 0.6 percentage points between February 2012 and February 2013, from 8.3% to 7.7% - the lowest it had been since 2008 based on seasonally adjusted figures. It since dropped to 7.6% in March.

Meanwhile, in some metropolitan statistical areas, unemployment rates proportionately fell much more than the rate nationwide. In Palm Coast, Fla., the unemployment rate fell by 2.5 percentage points from a year ago to 10.3% in February. The metro areas with the biggest declines still generally have high unemployment, and it remains to be seen whether this short-term improvement will translate into long-term recovery.

These metro areas were among the hardest-hit economies in the country, with unemployment in places like Merced, Modesto, and Palm Coast, rising well above 15%. Several of these cities, despite the improvement, still have among the highest unemployment rates in the U.S.

The exceptions are cities like Boise, Idaho, which had an unemployment rate of 9.6% in February 2010, just below the national rate of 9.8%. The area's unemployment rate as of February 2013 was 6.5%. - well below the U.S. figure.

Martin Kohli, chief regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics explained that one clue to the stability of long-term job growth in these cities is the type of jobs added - whether they are payroll jobs rather than agricultural or self-employed ones. In some of these places, like Merced, Calif., he explained, there was a healthy increase in payroll jobs, while in cities like Madera, Calif., this wasn't the case. "If you're really recovering, you want to see positive changes in a lot of different areas, and you're seeing that for Merced, but you're not seeing it for Madera," Kohli said.

In our analysis, we only reviewed the cities where the labor force was growing. Cities like Coeur D'alene, Idaho and Yuba City, Calif.. have also had substantial declines in unemployment, but also had labor force declines of more than 2%. The cities on our list have had the number of people looking for jobs increase and the number of people without jobs decrease - a sign that jobs are being added at a faster rate than people are joining the labor force.

Based on change in the unemployment rates between February 2012 and 2013, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the eight Metropolitan Statistical Areas with the biggest percentage point decline in non seasonally adjusted unemployment. From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics we also reviewed unemployment rate changes from previous years, as well as the change in unemployment from October 2009 - U.S. peak unemployment - to the current rate. The BLS also provided nonfarm payroll growth over that time. All metropolitan employment numbers are not seasonally adjusted. The national unemployment rate change we mention is seasonally adjusted.

These are the 10 metro areas with the biggest declines in unemployment:

8. Merced, Calif.
> 1 yr. change in unemployment rate: -2.1 percentage points
> Current unemployment: 17.8% (4th highest)
> Unemployment October 2009: 15.4%
> Labor force: 113,114
> 1 yr. change in payroll jobs: 3.2%

Although the unemployment rate of 17.8% as of February is the fourth highest of all metropolitan areas in the U.S., it has fallen from 19.9% the year before. The trade, transportation and utilities industry employed approximately 11,900 people as of February, a 6.3% jump compared to the same month in 2012. The Merced metro area is very reliant on farm labor. Of the approximately 92,900 people employed as of February, just 57,600 were employed in nonfarm jobs.

7. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla.
> 1 yr. change in unemployment rate: -2.1 percentage points
> Current unemployment: 7.1% (129th lowest)
> Unemployment October 2009: 11.1%
> Labor force: 1,142,625
> 1 yr. change in payroll jobs: 2.0%

Between February 2012 and February 2013, employment in Orlando rose 5.1%, one of the largest increases metro areas nationwide. Much of this has been due to a recovering leisure and hospitality industry, the area's largest job sector. Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and several of the area's other major employers have added hundreds of jobs in recent months. However, according to the Orlando Sentinel, it remains to be seen if these employment gains are permanent, or simply the product of temporary hiring.

6. Modesto, Calif.
> 1 yr. change in unemployment rate: -2.1 percentage points
> Current unemployment: 14.9% (9th highest)
> Unemployment October 2009: 16.9%
> Labor force: 237,899
> 1 yr. change in payroll jobs: 1.2%

The unemployment rate of 14.9% in February, while still among the highest of all metro areas, is down considerably from 17% in the same month last year and down from a high of 18.9% back in February 2010. Despite the decline in the unemployment rate, the total number of people employed grew by just 3.3%. Headcount in trade, transportation and utilities - the largest industry in the area with 33,500 people as of February 2013 - grew 4% year-over-year.

5. Boise City-Nampa, Idaho
> 1 yr. change in unemployment rate: -2.2 percentage points
> Current unemployment: 6.5% (93rd lowest)
> Unemployment October 2009: 8.5%
> Labor force: 308,324
> 1 yr. change in payroll jobs: 2.9%

At 6.5%, the Boise metro area's unemployment rate is lower than roughly three-quarters of all other metropolitan areas. Also, the job market of few metro areas has improved as much as Boise's. As of February, total employment was up 4.3% from the year before, among the largest increases in the nation. The professional and business services sector has been among the major industries contributing to job growth. The sector increased employment by 6.3% over the 12 months ending in February.

4. Madera-Chowchilla, Calif.
> 1 yr. change in unemployment rate: -2.2 percentage points
> Current unemployment: 13.2% (18th highest)
> Unemployment October 2009: 13.9%
> Labor force: 69,615
> 1 yr. change in payroll jobs: 0.3%

Although the Madera area continued to have an extremely high unemployment rate in February of 13.2%, the situation there has improved dramatically from the year before, when 15.4% of all workers were without a job. Over the course of those 12 months, the number of jobs in the area rose by 5.8%, one of the largest increases in the nation. Many of Madera's jobs are tied to agriculture. As of February, there were over 60,000 workers in the area, but only roughly 33,000 workers were listed on nonfarm payrolls, virtually unchanged from the year before.

3. Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev.
> 1 yr. change in unemployment rate: -2.4 percentage points
> Current unemployment: 9.8% (65th highest)
> Unemployment October 2009: 13.1%
> Labor force: 994,940
> 1 yr. change in payroll jobs: 2.0%

The number of unemployed job seekers in Las Vegas dropped by 19% between February 2012 and February 2013. The two largest industries in the area - trade, transportation and utilities and professional and business services - grew a modest 2.6% and 1.3%, respectively. Yet the construction industry, which employed approximately 37,400 people as of February 2013, had employment rolls grow by more than 7.5%. This may indicates a recovery in the Las Vegas housing market, which took a significant beating several years ago. Builders have reported dwindling vacant lots in the Southern Nevada area, and home prices in January rose by more than 8% compared to a year earlier.

2. Ocala, Fla.
> 1 yr. change in unemployment rate: -2.4 percentage points
> Current unemployment: 8.4% (134th highest)
> Unemployment October 2009 : 13.4%
> Labor force: 132,964
> 1 yr. change in payroll jobs: 3.4%

The number of people unemployed dropped from about 14,300 in February 2012 to about 11,200 February 2013. The nearly 22% drop was the fourth-largest of all metropolitan areas in country. Job growth grew across the board. In education and health services, one of the largest industries in the area, employment grew by 5.6% between February 2012 and February 2013. Employment headcount grew by 6.5% in business and professional services. Back in February, city and county officials approved a multi-million dollar incentive package to entice FedEx to build a nearly 400,000 square foot distribution center, which, if completed, would provide 165 jobs at an average annual salary of $31,536.

1. Palm Coast, Fla.
> 1 yr. change in unemployment rate: -2.5 percentage points
> Current unemployment: 10.3% (47th highest)
> Unemployment October 2009 rate: 15.0%
> Labor force: 34,865
> 1 yr. change in payroll jobs: 1.0%

The number of people employed in the Palm Coast area grew by 7.2% between February 2012 and February 2013, more than all but three other metropolitan areas across the country. The labor force also grew more than 4%, indicating that previously discouraged job hunters may either be back to work or back to job hunting. In business and professional services, headcount grew by 15% to 2,300 employees as of February 2013, compared to the same month in 2012. Leisure and hospitality grew 6.7% year-over-year.

USA TODAY

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