Looking for a job? Put on your parka and snowboots.
Metropolitan areas in northern states like the Dakotas, Vermont, Michigan, and Minnesota are well represented among the ranks of places where unemployment rates are low and falling. Altogether, Midwestern and Great Lakes states account for six of U.S. News' 10 best cities for finding a job.[See a slideshow of the 10 best cities for finding a job.]
A variety of strong industries can help a city to maintain low levels of unemployment. "Traditionally, a strong factor [in a healthy job market] has been diversification," says John W. Budd, director of the Center for Human Resources and Labor Studies at the University of Minnesota. "So Minneapolis, for example, has a strong healthcare sector, as well as strong [production of] medical devices, as well as strong food processing and consumer products."
Fargo, North Dakota, which sits atop our list, counts diversity as one factor that contributes to its strong job market.
"We have a strong presence in regional healthcare, with multiple hospital facilities," says Kent Costin, Fargo's city director of finance. In addition, he says, Fargo is "a strong regional retail center, as well as kind of a regional economic hub for other forms of wholesale distribution."
Education is another factor in job stability. This refers not only to individual workers' education levels, but also to the presence of educational institutions. Colleges and universities can provide large, relatively stable job pools to a metro area. Costin counts North Dakota State University and Concordia College as two key employers in the Fargo metropolitan area. Likewise, the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Medical Center are the two top employers in Ann Arbor, and the University of Minnesota is one of the Twin Cities' top employers.
States' differing levels of generosity with regard to social programs can also affect local unemployment rates, says Budd. "Social nets tend to be higher in northern states than in southern states, which prevents the bottom from falling too far." Unemployment benefits, for example, tend to be smaller in southern states than in the north. Social safety nets provide people with more disposable income, allowing them to spend more and potentially provide a significant boost to the economy.
A state government's fiscal health can also contribute to a city's economy. The booming oil industry in western North Dakota provides revenue to the state government, which is then spent statewide.
Among U.S. metropolitan areas with 200,000 people or more, here are the 10 best cities for finding a job:
|Rank||Metro Area||Nov. 2011 Unemployment Rate||Y-Y Change|
|3||Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.||3.7||-1|
|4||Sioux Falls, S.D.||3.8||-0.8|
|5||Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb.||4.1||-0.5|
|6||Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux, La.||4.5||-0.8|
|7||Ann Arbor, Mich.||5.2||-1.7|
|8||Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.||5.1||-1.5|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau (population counts).
Methodology: For each metropolitan area, the percentage change in unemployment rate from Nov. 2010 to Nov. 2011 was determined. That percentage change was then subtracted from a given city's Nov. 2011 unemployment rate. For example, Fargo's unemployment rate fell by nearly 14 percent year over year. 14 percent was then subtracted from its Nov. 2011 unemployment rate. The above cities are the 10 with the lowest resultant figures.
The rankings take into account the most recent metropolitan unemployment rates, which reflect November 2011, as well as how far those rates have fallen since November 2010. This allows the rankings to reward a city not only for its low unemployment but a downward trajectory in that figure.
It is important to note, however, that the cities with the lowest unemployment have their own economic difficulties. For example, Fargo's relatively small population means that it may not be attractive for larger employers. "That issue about low populations is probably a concern maybe for larger employers. ... Just the idea of, are you going to run out of a labor pool?" says Costin. And a 3.1 percent unemployment rate suggests that there aren't a lot of Fargoans looking for work.
Still, in a persistently sluggish economy, that's a problem that most cities would be more than happy to face.