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Blogging on Employment and Job Markets in US Metro Areas

Metro Area Unemployment and Labor Force Changes

As a follow up to my recent post on March unemployment rates for large metro areas, this post will focus the change in labor force and unemployment rates. The labor force and unemployment figures shown are taken form this BLS news release. As in the previous post, this post will focus on the 51 largest metro areas, those with populations of 1 million or more as of the 2010 census.

Before looking at the metro area level data, a quick look at the national level: the national unemployment rate was 4.6% in March, down from 5.1% in March 2016. Over that twelve month period the civilian labor force increased by 1.06 million. Among the 51 largest metro areas as a group, the labor force increased by 1.13 million. This means that outside of those large metro areas, the labor force shrank by 70,000.

When looking at changes in labor force and unemployment, keep in mind that a decrease in the unemployment rate means that the percentage change in labor force is greater than the percentage change in the number of unemployment persons. If the labor force decreased and the unemployment rate fell (as experienced by several metro areas over the past year – see below), the number of unemployed person decreased by more than the labor force.

The below table shows the labor force change and unemployment rates for the twenty metro (of the 51 largest metro areas) that saw the largest decreases in unemployment rates from a year earlier:

labor force changes for large metro areas with decrease in unemployment rates March 2017 vs March 2016
The Chicago metro area, which had the largest unemployment rate decrease, saw its labor force decrease by 1.7%. St Louis and Pittsburgh also saw relatively large decreases in their labor forces (1.9% and 0.9% respectively). Only one metro area saw a labor force decrease larger than that of Chicago or St Louis – Rochester, NY (not shown in the above table, but included in the table at the end of this post) with a 3% decrease. In terms of number of persons, Chicago’s labor force decrease was the largest. The metro areas with notable labor force increases are Phoenix (3.7%), Seattle-Tacoma (2.2%), Denver (2.1%), Portland, Oregon (1.7%), and Hartford (1.7%).

Here’s a table showing the metro areas where the March unemployment rate was unchanged from or higher than a year earlier:

labor force and unemployment changes March 2017 vs March 2016
With the exception of Cleveland, these metro areas all saw significant labor force increases. Notably, although the four Texas metro areas (Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio) all saw their unemployment rates increase from a year earlier, as a group they account for a labor force increase of over 238,000, which is over 20% of the national increase. It is further worth nothing that the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area’s labor force increase is the largest of any metro area (though not in percentage terms) and accounts for over 12% of the national increase.

Below is a table showing labor force and employment changes over the year ending in March for all 51 large metro areas in order of the percent change in labor force. Though there are a few exceptions, we see the labor force growing in warm weather and western metro areas, and shrinking in cold weather metro areas.

Changes in labor force and unemployment rates for large metro areas March 2017 vs March 2016