The Top 10 and Bottom 10 Places Gaining Employed People in America

With one caveat: While the number of employed people may decline in an area, that doesn’t mean the unemployment rate is going up.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
June 20, 2014, 8:47 a.m.

“Where are the jobs?” is a com­plic­ated ques­tion. But there are plenty of num­bers out there that provide clues. One of them is over­all em­ploy­ment.

This week, the Bur­eau of Labor and Stat­ist­ics re­leased new num­bers show­ing the num­ber of em­ployed people in each of the coun­try’s largest 334 counties. A large county, as clas­si­fied by the bur­eau, has an av­er­age an­nu­al em­ploy­ment level of 75,000 people or more.

Over­all, the United States gained 2.3 mil­lion jobs from Decem­ber 2012 to Decem­ber 2013, in­creas­ing em­ploy­ment by 1.8 per­cent to 136.1 mil­lion jobs. But in that time, a few counties stood out for above-av­er­age gains in the num­ber of people work­ing.

The top county, Weld, Colo., saw such a large gain be­cause of an in­crease in con­struc­tion, with more than 1,864 jobs gained over the year. St. Clair County, Ill., which con­tains East St. Louis, had the largest de­cline in the num­ber of people work­ing in 2013.

Bey­ond the counties that had the highest per­cent­age change in 2013, the 10 largest counties in the na­tion each saw an in­crease in the num­ber of em­ployed people. King County, Wash., which con­tains Seattle, had a 3.5 per­cent gain in em­ploy­ment.

The un­em­ploy­ment rate is still the best meas­ure for the size of the work­force. But keep­ing track of the raw num­ber of people work­ing in dif­fer­ent counties helps mu­ni­cip­al gov­ern­ments col­lect and cov­er their tax base.

These num­bers come with a large caveat, however. While the num­ber of em­ployed people may go down in a county, that doesn’t mean that the un­em­ploy­ment rate is go­ing up. Older work­ers re­tire and leave the work­force. That means their de­par­tures aren’t meas­ured as part of un­em­ploy­ment.

Even though em­ploy­ment num­bers in three Vir­gin­ia counties in the D.C. area — Fair­fax, Al­ex­an­dria, and Ar­ling­ton — could be de­clin­ing, this drop might just be at­trib­uted to older pop­u­la­tions in those areas re­tir­ing. It makes sense, since the un­em­ploy­ment rate in those three counties de­clined while the num­ber of em­ployed people also de­clined. In Fair­fax, em­ploy­ment fell 0.5 points to 3.7 per­cent; in Al­ex­an­dria, it dropped 0.4 points to 3.7 per­cent; and in Ar­ling­ton, it fell 0.5 points to 3.1 per­cent.

“Older people who are no longer work­ing need not be a prob­lem if people are re­tir­ing and they’re wealthy, which is most cer­tainly the case in these counties,” said Aus­tin Nich­ols, a seni­or re­search as­so­ci­ate at the Urb­an In­sti­tute. “That’s not as much of a prob­lem. They’re still gen­er­at­ing in­come; they’re just not work­ing any­more.”

The same goes for counties where em­ploy­ment is go­ing up. That doesn’t mean the un­em­ploy­ment rate is go­ing down. More work­ing-age people could move to the area and bal­ance out the change.

But this could also mean that the eco­nomy is get­ting bet­ter in the areas where em­ploy­ment num­bers are rising. Just look at the top five counties for em­ploy­ment: Weld, Colo., saw a 1.9-point de­cline to 6 per­cent; Lee, Fla., saw a 2.3-point de­cline to 5.7 per­cent; Sonoma, Cal­if., saw a 1.9-point de­cline to 5.7 per­cent; Douglas, Colo., saw a 0.9-point de­cline to 4.7 per­cent; and Sara­sota, Fla., saw a 2.3-point de­cline to 5.6 per­cent.

It could also mean the work­force is still strug­gling in areas where num­bers are de­clin­ing. St. Claire, Ill., ex­per­i­enced the largest de­cline in em­ploy­ment, but also saw an in­crease in its un­em­ploy­ment rate by 0.2 points to 9.4 per­cent. The same went for Pe­or­ia, Ill., which saw a 1.1-point in­crease to 10.1 per­cent.

Mostly, though, the num­bers show that the eco­nomy is head­ing in the right dir­ec­tion. Of the 334 largest counties in the U.S., just 39 saw de­clin­ing em­ploy­ment num­bers. And this was in 2013. Judging by the de­clin­ing un­em­ploy­ment rate, 2014 could see bet­ter num­bers.