Unemployment in Yuma, Ariz., is 4.5 times the national average

August 28, 2013

Unemployment in the Yuma, Ariz., metropolitan area was 34.5 percent last month—about 4.5 times the national average—according to new Labor Department data.

The southwestern border town has consistently ranked at or near the top of the monthly ranking of not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rates in the nation’s 372 metropolitan areas. The El Centro, Calif., area had the second-highest unemployment rate: 26.1 percent. Bismarck, N.D., had the lowest with 2.5 percent.

So why is Yuma’s rate so high? Local officials and experts routinely blame its large migrant population and seasonal agricultural sector. NPR last year spotlighted the town alongside Bismarck, N.D., which was—and remains—the metro area with the nation’s lowest unemployment rate thanks to the region’s oil boom. Here’s how NPR explained Yuma’s problem:

“The unemployment rate of border communities can sometimes artificially increase — and even double — because of a large uncounted migrant population, says San Diego State University economics professor James Gerber. And border cities tend to have greater health problems and lower levels of education, which are associated with high unemployment, he says.”

The seasonal farm sector and tourism were to blame, too, local officials told a local reporter last month. That seasonality is evident when you look at Yuma’s monthly rates over the past few years, though the peaks and troughs have almost steadily climbed from the start of the Great Recession and through the recovery:


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

But Yuma is an outlier. More than half of the nation’s metro areas—214—fared better than the national average last month. And just over 85 percent posted year-on-year unemployment rate declines. In the 49 areas that are home to one million or more people, unemployment ranged from 4.8 percent to 11 percent.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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