Unemployment. It's a leading cause of discontent in US cities and America in general. When people are out of work, they're not spending, locally or nationally. A leading economic artery is blocked. Urban decay starts creeping like black mold into city infrastructures.
From the late 1940s until the latest recession, the US unemployment rate, defined as the percentage of the total labor force that's out of work at any given time, averaged about 6 percent. As of October 2012, that national average was roughly 8 percent. While this isn't as high as 1982's record of nearly 11 percent, it's high enough for alarm.
Ten of the biggest US cities (with populations of over 500,000) have unemployment rates higher than 8 percent. In four top US cities -- Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Baltimore -- unemployment is higher than 10 percent. Five of the country's largest cities -- Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, and San Jose -- are also in the top 10 for unemployment.
Reasons for urban joblessness vary: An industry fails or becomes outdated; companies suffer budget cuts; regions are abandoned by business in favor of greener, foreign pastures. Certainly, the overall US economic downturn produces and results from all of these factors.
Cures for high unemployment are also diverse and include the introduction of new businesses, efforts to reduce taxes, or plans to offer incentives for firms that can help alleviate local or regional economic woes.
Some of these measures are working well. Detroit, the most unemployed city in the US, also showed the highest wage growth in the second quarter of 2012. In most other cities covered by this report as well, unemployment numbers are falling.
But lasting change is needed to build upward momentum. In short, cities need strategies to alleviate current joblessness while protecting against the potential for future workforce disruption.
In this report, we present the largest US cities (ones with populations over 500,000) with the highest unemployment rates, starting from lowest and moving to highest. We explore the causes, propose the cures, and describe any measures the cities are taking to alleviate joblessness.
We have based our population figures on input from the US Census Bureau. Our labor force counts and unemployment rates come from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Naturally, we welcome your feedback: Do you live in one of these cities? What is your experience with joblessness? What do you think will help the situation?
We welcome your input on the message boards below.
- 10: Charlotte, N.C.
- 9: Washington, D.C.
- 8: San Jose, Calif.
- 7: New York, N.Y.
- 6: Chicago, Ill.
- 5: Memphis, Tenn.
- 4: Baltimore, Md.
- 3: Philadelphia, Pa.
- 2: Los Angeles, Calif.
- 1: Detroit, Mich.
Next page: 10: Charlotte, N.C.