Unemployment rates rose in all of the nation's largest metropolitan areas for the third straight month in March, with Indiana's Elkhart-Goshen once again logging the biggest gain.
The Labor Department reported Wednesday that all 372 metropolitan areas tracked saw jobless rates move higher last month from a year earlier. Elkhart-Goshen's rate soared to 18.8%, a 13-point increase. That was the fourth-highest jobless rate in the country.
The Indiana region has been hammered by layoffs in the recreational vehicle industry. RV makers Monaco Coach Corp., Keystone RV Co. and Pilgrim International have sliced hundreds of jobs.
The jobless rate jumped to 17% in Bend, Ore., a 9.2-point rise and the second-biggest monthly gainer. Bend for years has been the center of the central Oregon real estate and construction boom, largely fueled by retirees from California. Rounding out the top three was North Carolina's Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, whose unemployment rate rose to 15.4% last month, an increase of 9.1 percentage points. That region has been hit especially hard by heavy layoffs in manufacturing amid a recession that is nearing a record as the longest in the post-World War II period.
El Centro, Calif., continued to claim the highest unemployment rate: 25.1%. The jobless rate there is notoriously high because there are so many unemployed seasonal agriculture workers.
Following close behind were Merced, Calif., with a jobless rate of 20.4%, and Yuba City, Calif., at 19.5%.
The national unemployment rate soared to 8.5%, a quarter-century high, in March.
Many economists believe that employers will stay in cost-cutting mode even if the recession ends this year, as some hope. The nationwide unemployment rate could top 10% early next year before it starts to drift downward.
In Wednesday's metro unemployment report, the government said 18 regions registered jobless rates of at least 15%.
Meanwhile, 15 regions had rates below 5%. They include Ames, Iowa; Houma-Bayou-Cane-Thibodaux, La.; Iowa City, Iowa; Manhattan, Kan.; and Lubbock, Texas.
Both Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, and Houma-Bayou-Cane-Thibodaux had the lowest unemployment rates, at 3.6% each. The Louisiana region, with about 200,000 residents, is on the coast and serves as a vital support area for the offshore petroleum industry in the Gulf of Mexico.
Because of deep-water drilling in the gulf, where projects take years to complete and bring to production, there has been little short-term effect from low energy prices.