The July metro area unemployment numbers are out, showing declines in the unemployment rate in 305 out of 372 metropolitan areas in the United States. The biggest year-on-year increases in payroll employment were basically in the biggest cities, with New York leading the way followed by Los Angeles and Houston. That’s a bit of bad news for Chicago, but otherwise not particularly informative. In percentage terms, by contrast, the fastest growers were three minor metros—Lafayette, La.; Columbus, Ind.; and Texarkana in Texas and Arkansas. To get a real national recovery going we need to start seeing some big percentage gains in larger cities that contain more workers.
If you don’t have a job and are looking for work, you might want to consider one of the 18 metropolitan areas with unemployment rates below . That’s Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, or Iowa City in Iowa; Rochester in Minnesota; Billings, Mont.; Lincoln or Omaha in Nebraska; Portsmouth, N.H.; Bismark, Fargo, or Grand Oakes in North Dakota; Oklahoma City; Rapid City and Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Midland and Odessa, Texas; Logan, Utah; and Burlington, Vt.
What you can see, though, is that America’s problem as a whole is that with the exception of Oklahoma City and maybe Omaha these are all really little cities. The whole Oklahoma City metropolitan area contains slightly fewer residents than the Bronx in New York, and Montgomery County in the D.C. suburbs has more people than the Omaha metro area. The federal government should almost certainly do more to help inform people about regional variation in economic conditions. Most people—especially the kind of people who are most likely to be unemployed—aren’t economic policy bloggers who look this stuff up on the BLS website. But it’s also pretty clear that the low unemployment swathes of America just don’t have the capacity to absorb more than a trivial fraction of the jobless people around the country.