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updated 12/6/2004 7:31:22 AM ET 2004-12-06T12:31:22

The job market continues to pick up steam. U.S. employment totaled 131.9 million jobs as 2004's third quarter drew to a close. The increase was 1.4 percent above the same period in 2003.

That growth rate was an improvement over the previous two quarterly checkpoints. Employment had been up 1.1 percent at end of the second quarter and 0.5 percent at the end of the first.

Another positive indicator has been uncovered by an American City Business Journals analysis of employment data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It shows that more than 70 percent of America's 226 labor markets -- 161, to be exact -- have added jobs during the past year. Sixty-one have suffered losses, while four are unchanged.

Las Vegas remains the hottest market in percentage terms, expanding its job base 5.1 percent between September 2003 and September 2004. New York City has added the largest raw number of jobs, 101,100.

The following is a look at who's hot and who's not, breaking the nation into 13 sections, including four states that are big enough to be sections by themselves. We'll start in the northeast.

New England
The economic recovery has been spotty across this six-state section. Burlington, Vt., is rebounding nicely, with employment up 2.5 percent during the past 12 months. That makes Burlington the fastest-growing market in New England and one of the top 25 in the nation.

But there are some gloomy stories, too. Hartford has lost 8,400 jobs in the past year, the worst raw decline anywhere outside of Michigan. And Boston is down 1,700 over the same span.

New York
New York is really two states. The New York City market -- also known as downstate -- has added 101,100 jobs since the third quarter of 2003. That's the largest gain in raw numbers across America.

But upstate is a different story. Its eight markets have collectively added just 5,300 jobs. Three of them, in fact, have lower employment than they did a year ago -- Buffalo, Elmira and Rochester.

Middle Atlantic
The overall numbers in the Middle Atlantic look strong. Its 21 markets have picked up 118,400 jobs since September 2003, the largest gain by any of the nation's 13 sections.

But that total is heavily weighted by the economic boom in two markets. Washington-Baltimore has tacked on 85,700 jobs, and the Philadelphia area has added 16,200.

The biggest drag on the sectional economy is Scranton, Pa., which has lost 2,600 jobs.

Southeast
Charleston, S.C., leads this section, which sweeps along the Atlantic seaboard from Virginia to Georgia. Charleston's employment base has expanded 2.9 percent during the past year, a growth rate that ranks 17th among the nation's 226 labor markets.

Other strong gainers are Raleigh (up 2.1 percent), Charlotte (up 1.9 percent) and Asheville (up 1.7 percent), all in North Carolina. They have added 32,000 jobs between them since the third quarter of last year.

Florida
Florida continues to prosper, despite an inordinate share of weather-related woes. Eight of its markets rank among the 50 with the fastest job-growth rates in America.

Atop the list is Fort Myers, where employment is up 3.6 percent, the sixth-best percentage nationally. Miami, Orlando and Tampa have posted the largest gains in raw numbers -- Miami is up 23,700 jobs since September 2003, while Orlando is up 19,600 and Tampa is up 14,100.

South Central
Virginia, Florida and Texas are the prosperous endpoints of a triangle. All three are among the nation's healthiest states, but the seven states in the middle of that triangle are not doing nearly as well.

The South Central's 30 markets, taken as a group, have added just 32,000 jobs during the past year. Oklahoma City has accounted for almost 30 percent of that gain by itself, adding 9,300 jobs.

Twelve of the section's markets have lost employment. The worst case is New Orleans, down 5,500 in 12 months.

Texas
Five of Texas' smaller markets are among the nation's leaders in job growth -- Laredo, McAllen, San Angelo, Bryan and Victoria. All have enjoyed healthy year-to-year increases between 4.5 percent (Laredo) and 2.7 percent (Bryan and Victoria).

The paces are more sedate in larger cities, but the raw numbers are much more impressive. Houston has added 27,200 jobs in the past year, while Dallas has gained 19,100 and San Antonio 9,800.

Eastern Great Lakes
Times are harder in the Eastern Great Lakes than anywhere else in America. Its 27 markets have collectively lost 56,800 jobs since September 2003. New England is the only other section to register a net loss, just 600 jobs.

The epicenter of decline is Detroit, which has seen 30,200 jobs slip away, easily the worst figure in the nation. Other large drops have occurred in Lansing, Mich. (down 11,700), Saginaw, Mich. (down 7,800), and Indianapolis (down 7,200).

Western Great Lakes
This section may be doing well in comparison to its eastern neighbor, but it's nothing special in national terms. The 20 markets in the Western Great Lakes have a job-growth rate of just 0.6 percent.

Leading the way are five Wisconsin metros with gains of 2.2 percent or better, headed by Sheboygan at 3.5 percent. Milwaukee and Minneapolis-St. Paul are the pacesetters in raw numbers, adding 21,500 and 11,100 jobs, respectively.

Plains
Waterloo, Iowa, has added 2,800 jobs in the past year. That's an amazing sum for a market with total employment of just 75,700. Its growth rate of 3.8 percent is No. 5 in the U.S. standings.

St. Louis is another success story, picking up 38,100 jobs since the third quarter of 2003. Only five markets across the nation have done better in absolute terms.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the other hand, is down 3.7 percent, the third-worst decline in the nation.

Interior West
The economy is humming in the Interior West, where three markets have job-growth rates higher than 3 percent -- Provo, Utah; Casper, Wyo.; and Las Cruces, N.M.

Phoenix has added 38,900 jobs in the past year, the equivalent of 750 each week. It's far and away the sectional leader in raw numbers. The runners-up are Salt Lake City (up 13,700), Provo (up 6,800), Albuquerque (up 6,600) and Tucson (up 6,400).

Far West
No surprise here. Las Vegas is No. 1 in the Far West -- and the nation -- with its job-growth rate of 5.1 percent. Nevada's other labor market, Reno, is second sectionally and fourth nationally at 4.1 percent. Their combined gain has been 50,800 jobs in 12 months.

Seattle's rebound (up 32,100) has also been impressive. But Portland remains in the doldrums, adding just 300 jobs in the past year.

California
California is a study in contrasts. Santa Barbara's economy is healthy, as evidenced by its employment growth of 2.7 percent. San Diego is also doing reasonably well at 1.5 percent. And Los Angeles has picked up 48,600 jobs.

But there are downsides, too. The San Francisco Bay area is starting to recover, but still has a long way to go. It's up just 3,400 jobs in the past year. And the smaller markets of Modesto and Salinas have both lost more than 2,000 jobs since the third quarter of 2003.

American City Business Journals, Inc.

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