Another California Dubious Distinction: Of Five Cities with Nation’s Highest Unemployment, the Golden State Has Four

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

April 23, 2012

Unemployment rates vary widely from state to state and, within those states, from city to city. In Pittsburgh, my home town, unemployment is 7.3 percent, about a full point below the 8.2 percent national average. Throughout Pennsylvania, unemployment is at its lowest since 2009, 7.5 percent. Entry level jobs in retail and office management are abundant. [PA. Jobless Rate down to 7.5 percent in March, by Amy Belser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 20, 2012]

Even better than living in Pittsburgh is to be in Iowa where Ames and Iowa City have 4.0 and 4.2 percent unemployment respectively.

But in other areas, namely California, unemployment is more than twice the national average with some cities struggling with astronomical rates that are--- contrary to the national trend--- rising. Of the five cities with highest unemployment, four are in California: Visalia-Porterville (17.6 percent), Yuba City (19.9 percent), Merced (20 percent) and El Centro (26.7 percent). The fifth, Yuma, Arizona, stands at 23.7 percent.

The relationship between cities with either high or low unemployment and their immigrant populations is undeniable. In Ames and in Iowa City, the foreign-born population is 11 and 4.1 percent. Compare those relatively low figures to Visalia-Porterville (30 percent), Yuba City (24 percent), Merced, (25 percent), El Centro (27 percent) and Yuma, (26 percent). Statewide, heavily immigrant populated California has the third highest unemployment rate, 11 percent, behind Nevada and Rhode Island.

These unemployment statistics serve as an excellent example of what happens to immigrants, many illegal, when good economic times collapse. They came to the United States when jobs in construction and agriculture were plentiful. Now as the recession grinds on, there’s little meaningful employment to be found. Furthermore, many among the foreign-born arrived in the United States with significant employment challenges including poor conversational English skills and limited formal education. Those drawbacks further reduce the probability of landing a job.

Immigration advocates argue that during periods of economic growth, immigrants provide low cost labor that result in cheaper cost of goods that benefits everyone. But when times bad times roll around, the percentage of immigrants who return home is low. Those who remain suffer.

A more compassionate approach to immigration would be to secure the border and pursue vigorous interior enforcement. That twin-edged immigration strategy would help assure that existing jobs go to Americans or legal immigrants and that when severe economic downturns occur, illegal immigrants are spared the dire consequences.


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