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City jobless picture brightens a little

By Annalyn Censky, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of cities that showed a year-over-year improvement in their unemployment rate nearly doubled in March, according to the Labor Department.

In statistics released Wednesday, the department said 41 metropolitan areas posted unemployment rates that were lower in March than they were a year earlier. In February, only 21 metro areas showed a year-over-year improvement.

Nevertheless, 321 of the nation's 372 metropolitan areas posted higher jobless rates on an annual basis, with 10 areas showing no change. In February, jobless rates rose in 347 areas.

Hard hit in the beginning of the recession, Elkhart, Ind. - the so-called "RV capital of the world" - showed the biggest improvement, dropping to a 15.2% jobless rate last month from a 20.1% rate in March 2009.

Those numbers are in line with the national jobless picture, which has shown small improvement, or rather, "things don't appear to be getting worse," said Brian Hannon, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Labor Department's latest national report, released in early April, showed the U.S. economy gained 162,000 jobs in March, more than any other month in the last three years. The unemployment rate remained stubbornly high, holding steady at 9.7%.

Nevertheless, 28 metropolitan areas - including Elkhart - still reported severe unemployment rates at or above 15% in March.

Among the largest metropolitan areas, Detroit continued to report the highest jobless rate at 15.5%, up from 15.3% in February. Riverside, Calif. was second, as it has been for months, with a 15% unemployment rate, up from 14.8%.

New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C. had the lowest jobless rates of the big cities, all reporting rates below 7%.

El Centro, Calif., which is highly affected by seasonal agricultural jobs, posted the highest unemployment rate among all 372 metropolitam areas in the survey at 27%.

The Labor Department's Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment Summary breaks out unemployment rates by city and lags the nationwide jobs report by about a month.

The next national jobs report, showing April numbers, is scheduled for release on May 7. To top of page

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