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Jobs Jump Off a Cliff in the Nation’s Major Metro Areas

With the November unemployment rate up to 9.8 percent (up from 9.6 percent in October) and job growth down to only 39,000 (down from October’s 172,000), the national jobs picture is dismal, dashing hopes that a labor market recovery is imminent. The picture in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas as of the third quarter of this year (ending in September) is equally bleak, as the latest Brookings MetroMonitor shows. 

Job growth at the metro level suffered an even more stunning reversal from its previous upward trend. Quarterly job losses for the 100 largest metro areas combined diminished gradually during 2009 and the first half of 2010 and were replaced by job growth of 0.5 percent in the second quarter of the year. But then jobs jumped off a cliff, with a 0.3 percent job loss in the third quarter.

Likewise, the number of metro areas with quarterly job growth rose steadily from 26 in the last quarter of 2009 to 39 in the first quarter of 2010 to 87 in the second quarter of 2010—but then plummeted to 25 in the third quarter. 

A similar story can be told about manufacturing jobs, which were engines of growth earlier in the year. In the third quarter, the 100 largest metro areas combined lost 0.4 percent of their manufacturing jobs. In contrast to the second quarter, when 65 large metro areas saw growth in manufacturing jobs, only 32 large metropolitan areas had manufacturing job growth in the third quarter. The loss of manufacturing jobs in the third quarter was especially widespread in the manufacturing-based Great Lakes region.

There’s some good news from the metro areas. Growth of economic output is spreading and house prices are beginning to rise in most places. That’s the optimistic face of the economic recovery. But until the jobs situation improves substantially, the pessimistic face of the recovery is the one most people will see. The recovery will continue not to feel like a recovery. As my colleague Gary Burtless says, the employment numbers don’t offer much cheer for the holiday season.