Jobless rates fall in more than 75% of metro areas

By Associated Press
Posted April 6 at 2:15 p.m.

Unemployment rates are falling in most metro areas across the country, suggesting that recent nationwide gains in hiring are widespread and not limited to a few healthy regions.

More than three-quarters of the nation’s 372 largest metro areas reported lower unemployment rates in February than the previous month, the Labor Department said Wednesday. That’s the most to report a decline since September.

And more than 300 areas added jobs in February compared to the previous month. That’s a much better showing than January, when most metro areas lost jobs.

The gains “are definitely becoming a lot more broad-based,” said Marisa DiNatale, a regional economist at Moody’s Analytics.

The metro areas that posted the biggest job gains in February were: Los Angeles-Long Beach, with a gain of 53,600; New York City-Northern New Jersey, a gain of 18,500; and Miami-Fort Lauderdale, up 16,800.

Many big cities also saw steep drops in unemployment from January to February. The rate dropped to 8.8 percent from 9.3 percent  in Phoenix; to 6.9 percent from 7.3 percent  in the Austin, Texas, area; and to 10.6 percent from 11.5 percent  in Jacksonville, Fla.

The metro employment data are distorted by seasonal trends, such as the layoff of temporary retail employees after the holidays. Since it is not seasonally adjusted, it is more volatile from one month to the next.

More than 300 cities have seen their unemployment rates decline in the last year, the best showing since the recession ended in June 2009.

And 284 metro areas reported job gains in the last year, also the most since the recession ended.

Nationwide, private employers added more than 200,000 jobs in both February and March, the best two-month pace since 2006. The local data are one month behind the national figures.

Many of the cities that posted job losses were state capitals. State governments are laying off workers to reduce huge budget deficits. The Sacramento, Calif.,  area posted the largest job loss in the last year, shedding 13,600. The Albany, N.Y., region reported the fifth-biggest loss, with 4,900.

Sandusky, Ohio, reported the biggest percentage increase in its payrolls in the last year, adding 3,100 new jobs, or a 9.6 percent gain. The city is a tourism hub and is benefiting from a renewed willingness among Americans to take vacations. Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., the nation’s third-largest amusement park chain, is based in Sandusky, and so is one of its largest parks, Cedar Point. The chain reported record attendance in 2010.

A rebound in automakers and other manufacturers has helped many cities in the Midwest. That includes Kokomo, Ind., which reported the second-biggest percentage gain in jobs in the last year.

Lincoln, Neb., reported the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, at 4.2 percent. Bismarck, N.D., posted the second-lowest, at 4.6 percent, followed by Ames, Iowa, Fargo, N.D., and Iowa City, Iowa, all at 4.7 percent.

El Centro, Calif. reported the highest unemployment rate, at 26.9 percent, followed by Yuma, Ariz., with 21.5 percent. The adjacent cities include a large number of seasonal farm workers.

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