Visualizing Unemployment by Metropolitan Area

In early 2020, the U.S. government locked down most of the economy in a bid to halt the spread of Covid-19. Unemployment rates skyrocketed to levels not seen since the Great Depression. A year later, we survey the job market damage to see how each job market fared. Our visualization compares the December 2020 unemployment rates by metropolitan area.

Unemployment rates by metropolitan area

  • Tourist heavy economies like Las Vegas, Nevada, Hawaii, and Atlantic City, New Jersey saw unemployment rise over 5%.
  • Key oil-producing regions such as Odessa and Midland, Texas suffered similar rises in unemployment.
  • Only 10 of 389 metropolitan areas saw unemployment rates remain the same or drop.
  • Overall U.S. unemployment rose by 3.1% year-over-year.
  • 20 municipalities have unemployment rates over 10%.
  • Traditional farming areas have some of the highest unemployment rates in 2019 and 2020.

We pulled data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks unemployment by nearly 400 metropolitan areas. Taking that information, we created a heat map graphic to show unemployment rates across the U.S.

Top 5 Metros With the Highest Unemployment Rates

Metropolitan Area Unemployment Rates 2020
1. El Centro, CA 17.7%
2. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI 13%
3. Yuma, AZ 12.4%
4. Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ 12%
5. Visalia-Porterville, CA 11.8%

Top 5 Metros With the Lowest Unemployment Rates

Metropolitan Area Unemployment Rates 2020
1. Ames, IA 2.1%
2. Logan, UT-ID 2.4%
3. Burlington-South Burlington, VT 2.6%
4. Sioux Falls, SD 2.8%
5. Iowa City, IA 2.8%

Covid-19 didn’t just drive unemployment up in the U.S. The entire world saw unprecedented joblessness. And the impact was by no means equal. Many businesses leaned on insurance plans like business interruption insurance and savings to weather the storm. Yet that only gets you so far.

The visual highlights the geographies tied to many of the industries that experienced the worst job losses. Sectors like leisure and hospitality shed numerous jobs while struggling to recover. Yet, non-discretionary industries like finance and utilities saw fewer layoffs and recovered faster.

Areas with high unemployment in 2019 such as Southeastern California and Southwestern Arizona remained high in 2020 with little change.

Hawaii was hit particularly hard, as unemployment in the Maui area jumped from 10.8% to 13%, making the second worst unemployment rate amongst metropolitan areas in the U.S.

In an effort to stem the bleeding, central banks around the world dropped interbank lending rates to 0% or negative. Like many countries around the world, the U.S. government added fiscal stimulus to fight shrinking demand in 2020, with the possibility of additional support in 2021. These packages aim to help companies retain employees and weather the downturn until the recovery takes hold.

Although unemployment rates improved from their worst levels, the road to full recovery remains uncertain for many.
What do you think helps some job markets recover faster than others? Let us know in the comments.

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