Metro economies grow, job growth slow: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The economies of the biggest U.S. metropolitan areas began to grow again by the end of last year, but the recovery was "slow, uneven and inconsistent" and failed to spur much jobs growth, according to a study by the Brookings Institute released on Monday.

"The nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas were seeing widespread and steady growth in economic output, but only slow and inconsistent improvement in the labor market," said the research think tank that focuses on economics and policy.

"Job growth was sluggish and unemployment rates, although lower than at the end of 2009 in most large metropolitan areas, remained very high," Brookings added.

The housing market collapse, the financial crisis and subsequent economic recession ravaged states' and cities' revenues, limiting their ability to help newly unemployed citizens and fix problems associated with abandoned homes.

Even though the recession officially ended in summer 2009, cities are only now seeing the first signs of recovery in their revenues. They are nervously watching as revenues trickle back, output begins inching up, and foreclosures fall.

All of the 100 largest metropolitan areas had growth in output in the fourth quarter, and more than half saw output grow in each quarter of the year, Brookings said.

And while house prices dropped in the fourth quarter of 2010 from same quarter of 2009 in all major metropolitan areas except Honolulu and San Jose, California, foreclosures also fell in 86 of the 100 areas.

According to Brookings, three years after the start of the recession, the 100 largest metropolitan areas combined had lost 6.2 percent of their jobs. That compares to the 1.6 percent of the workforce they lost during the 2001 recession and 0.1 percent during the 1990-91 recession.

By the end of 2010, only one metropolitan area had completely recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession -- McAllen, Texas.

Brookings also ranked the 20 strongest-performing metro economies and the 20 weakest and found that Texas had the highest concentration of high-performing cities -- five. Florida had the highest concentration of low-performing metropolitan economies, also five.

Nearly all the metropolitan areas whose economies have suffered the most since the recession began "are ones that experienced a large house price boom and bust or that depend heavily on auto or auto parts manufacturing," Brookings said.

Those that have fared the best have economies dependent on the government, healthcare, education or oil and gas sectors.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Leslie Adler)