Unemployment rises in 98% of cities

Metropolitan unemployment up in 363 of 369 regions in December. Some 40 cities report jobless rates higher than 10%.

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By David Goldman, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In a sign that job losses are felt in every corner of the nation, unemployment rates rose in 98% of metropolitan areas across the country in December, according to a recent government report.

The Labor Department reported that the unemployment rates in 363 of 369 metropolitan areas rose in December 2008, compared with the same month in the prior year. In November, 364 of 369 areas reported higher unemployment rates.

According to the report, 168 areas reported jobless rates of at least 7%, compared with just 33 a year ago, and 40 areas reported rates that were higher than 10%. Just 22 metropolitan regions had unemployment rates that were under 4%, down from 112 last year.

A total of 95 regions registered unemployment rates that were at least 3 percentage points higher than a year ago. Not one region had a jobless rate decrease of more than 0.2 percentage point during that period.

Though the rise in unemployment rates depicts the rampant job losses facing the country, the Labor Department does not adjust the rates in its metropolitan unemployment report for typical seasonal changes in employment.

Furthermore, smaller cities are usually dependent on a fewer number of employers, so layoffs can exacerbate those areas' unemployment rates.

El Centro, Calif. continued to hold the highest rate of unemployment at 22.6%. The town on the border of Mexico is highly reliant on agricultural employment, according to economists. The unemployment rate has a tendency to rise and fall in the area depending on the farming season.

Morgantown, W.Va., had a rate of just 2.7%, the lowest in the country. Morgantown houses West Virginia University, which is the town's largest employer. The University has a large hospital and pharmaceutical manufacturing component - areas of the economy that are actually adding jobs.

Of the 49 metropolitan areas with a population of at least 1 million, Detroit had the largest unemployment rate, at 10.6%, followed by San Bernadino, Calif., with 10.1%. Detroit's labor force has been slammed by dreadful auto sales, and the sinking California housing market has dragged down construction jobs in that area.

Oklahoma City had the lowest unemployment rate of large metropolitan regions, at 4.6%, followed by Washington at 4.7%. Oklahoma City is benefiting from the still-booming energy industry, especially through the several large natural gas companies in the city. Washington's employment is largely based on federal government jobs in the district.

The report comes on the same day as two independent reports showed job cut announcements and payroll reductions continued to rise in January.

The Labor Department is expected to report Friday that the economy lost another 500,000 jobs, according to a consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Briefing.com. The national unemployment rate is expected to rise to 7.5% from its current level of 7.2%, its highest rate since January 1993. To top of page

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