The Cities Where (Most) Everyone Works


While the U.S. unemployment rate has improved markedly from the double digits during the recession, it was still stuck at 7.9% as of October. Some regions fare far better than rest of the country, despite the fact that more than 12 million people are still considered unemployed in the U.S. 24/7 Wall St. looked at the 10 metropolitan areas in the U.S. where unemployment barely exists.

Higher education and industries that support it are the reason these metropolitan areas are doing well. College towns across America tend to have lower unemployment rates than the population as a whole, Martin Kohli, Chief Regional Economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, explained in an interview. Universities often provide relatively stable jobs compared to employment in cyclical industries such as construction. The University of Iowa is located in Iowa City, Iowa State University is located in Ames, and the University of Nebraska is located in Lincoln — all three metro areas are on our list.

“These [metro areas] would be dominated by major industries such as the state university,” Kohli said. “The major jobs associated with major universities are teaching and administration, though there would be some research jobs.”

In addition, the metropolitan areas with low unemployment are, with few exceptions, clustered around the Great Plains area. Kohli explained that states such as Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and until very recently, North Dakota, have seen far smaller population growth compared to the rest of the country. Although these places haven’t seen rapid job growth in recent years (except for North Dakota), fewer people are competing for the jobs available in these regions.

The jobs market in many of these metropolitan areas have also benefited from rising oil prices. Three of metro areas on the list with the lowest unemployment are based in North Dakota, which has brought thousands of people to the state due to the abundance of relatively high-paying jobs in the fracking industry. Midland, Texas, another metro area with low unemployment,  has benefited a booming oil industry, although Kohli emphasized that not every part of Texas has benefited like Midland has.

24/7 Wall St. identified the ten metropolitan areas with the lowest unemployment rates as of October, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. State and local median household income was obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau. Data on the biggest industries was also obtained from the BLS.

These are the cities where everyone works.

10. Logan, Utah-Idaho > Oct. 2012 unemployment rate: 3.8% (tied for 9th) > Total population:124,813 > Median household income: $46,356

While the October unemployment rate was less than half of the national rate of 7.9%, the metropolitan area is not affluent. In fact, the 2011 median household income in the area was much lower than the national median of $50,502 and the state median of $55,869. Only 2% of families in the Logan made more than $200,000 in 2011, significantly less than the 5.6% of families across the U.S. Utah State University, which employs more than 2,600 people, is located in Logan. Education and training represents just shy of 10% of the total workforce.

9. Burlington, South Burlington, Vt. > Oct. 2012 unemployment rate: 3.8% (tied for 9th) > Total population: 213,624 > Median household income: $60,771

Burlington’s unemployment rate of 3.8% in October was significantly better than Vermont’s 5.5% rate, which itself was far better than the nation’s. The median household income in the Burlington area of $60,771 was significantly higher than the $52,776 median income in Vermont for 2011. Burlington is home to the University of Vermont, which has 10,459 undergraduate students, 1,540 graduate students and 1,471 full- and part-time faculty. Education and training makes up roughly 8% of the the metropolitan areas workforce.

8. Sioux Falls, S.D. > Oct. 2012 unemployment rate: 3.7% > Total population: 232,347 > Median household income: $55,609

As of October 2012, there were 140,400 nonfarm jobs in the Sioux Falls metropolitan area, a growth of 2.6% from the previous year. Major employment sectors that have grown in this time include manufacturing, which grew its workforce by 5.6%, along with education and health services, which grew by 4.7%. The largest employers in the area, as of 2011, were Sanford Health and Avera health, employing 7,703 and 5,921 people, respectively. Financial services is also a major industry in the region, with Wells Fargo and Citigroup the fifth- and sixth-largest employers in the Sioux Falls region in 2011.

7. Iowa City, Iowa > Oct. 2012 unemployment rate: 3.4% (tied for 6th) > Total population:154,893 > Median household income:$52,602

Iowa City, as of October 2012, had approximately 93,300 jobs in the area, an increase of 2.2% from the previous year. More than a third of these jobs, or 34,300, were in the government sector, which grew a modest 1.5% year-over-year. To compare, government jobs nationwide contracted during that period. Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa, which employs approximately 13,000 people, including 1,700 faculty positions. In addition to a low unemployment rate, Iowa City had a median household income of $52,602 in 2011, higher than the state’s $49,500 median income.

6. Ames, Iowa > Oct. 2012 unemployment rate: 3.4% (tied for 6th) > Total population: 89,663 > Median household income: $45,866

As of October, there were approximately 50,800 nonfarm jobs in the Ames area, which was 3.7% higher from the year before. The government sector made up a huge portion of employment, with 22,000 jobs, an increase of 4.3% from the previous year. Like Iowa City, Ames is a college town with Iowa State bringing in educated professionals from around the world. Unlike Iowa City, however, the region’s median household income of $45,866 in 2011 was well below the U.S. median of $50,502 and Iowa’s median of $49,500.

To read the full list of the cities where everyone works, please visit 24/7 Wall St.