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98 percent of metro areas see jobless rate rise

Unemployment rates rose in 98 percent of U.S. metropolitan areas late last year, with manufacturing layoffs driving the largest increases in Indiana and Georgia.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Unemployment rates rose in 98 percent of U.S. metropolitan areas late last year, with manufacturing layoffs driving the largest annual increases in Indiana's Elkhart-Goshen region and Dalton, Ga.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that jobless rates climbed in 363 of the largest 369 metropolitan areas in December from a year earlier.

Elkhart-Goshen's unemployment rate soared to 15.3 percent in December, up a whopping 10.6 percentage points from December 2007. The area has been bruised by layoffs in the recreational vehicle industry. Hundreds of workers have lost their jobs at RV makers such as Monaco Coach Corp., Keystone RV Co. and Pilgrim International.

The jobless rate in Dalton, home to many floorcovering manufacturers, jumped to 11.2 percent, up 6.2 percentage points from a year earlier.

An avalanche of layoffs is hitting the nation, sparing no state or community. That onslaught continued Wednesday with Botox maker Allergan Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. both announcing large job cuts.

Danville, Va., which saw its jobless rate bolt to 11.5 percent, had the third-biggest increase of 5.6 percentage points, according to the federal data. The area's economy once relied primarily on the tobacco and textile industries and has not yet recovered, interim City Manager M. Lyle Lacy III said Wednesday.

State reports showed several area manufacturers had furloughs that may have contributed to the large unemployment jump for the past year, Lacy said.

Rocky Mount, N.C., and Rockford, Ill., each recorded a 5.4 percentage point rise in their jobless rates from a year ago, which tied for the fourth-largest gain. Rocky Mount's rate came in a 11.7 percent in December, Rockford's was 12.5 percent.

Fallout from the housing, credit and financial crises — the worst since the 1930s — has plunged the country into a recession, now in its second year. That's taking a heavy toll on workers as companies eliminate jobs, cut or freeze pay and turn to other cost-saving measures to survive the downturn.

El Centro, Calif., continued to lay claim to the nation's highest unemployment rate — 22.6 percent. The jobless rate is notoriously high in the area, where many unemployed are seasonal agriculture workers, including some who live in Mexico to be with family or to cut costs.

Following El Centro were Merced, Calif., with a jobless rate of 15.5 percent, Yuma, Ariz., at 15.4 percent and then Elkhart-Goshen.

Meanwhile, Morgantown, W.Va., — home of West Virginia University — and Logan, which straddles Utah and Idaho, registered the lowest unemployment rates of 2.7 percent and 2.8 percent respectively.

The United States' seasonally adjusted unemployment rate bolted to 7.2 percent in December as employers slashed hundreds of thousands of jobs during the month. Many economists predict the nationwide jobless rate will rise to 7.5 percent, a 17-year peak, in January, when the government releases new figures Friday.

The metropolitan area unemployment figures aren't seasonally adjusted.

Companies are slashing jobs and cutting costs because the steepening economic tailspin in the U.S. and overseas is sapping customer demand. Americans throttled back spending at the end of last year, thrusting the economy into its worst backslide in a quarter-century.

Thousands more layoffs across all economic sectors have been announced this week. On Tuesday alone, PNC Financial Services Group, airplane maker Hawker Beechcraft Corp., Liz Claiborne Inc., King Pharmaceuticals Inc. and military contractor and aerospace company Rockwell Collins Inc. announced job cuts, and General Motors Corp. said it will offer buyouts to all of its hourly workers.