El Centro’s 21.1% unemployment rate second highest in U.S.

Workers harvest lettuce at an El Centro farm. The Imperial Valley city has the second highest unemployment rate in the country.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

El Centro, the largest city in the Imperial Valley and a stronghold of lettuce growers near California’s southern border, has nearly the highest unemployment rate in the country.

Out of a workforce of 79,400 people, 16,700 are unemployed, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That gives El Centro a jobless rate of 21.1%, second only to the 26.5% rate in Yuma, Ariz.

But high joblessness is a hallmark of farming communities, said Mark Schniepp, director of the California Economic Forecast.


“That’s just life as an agricultural worker – you work seven months out of the year, the other five months you file for unemployment,” he said.

Jobless rates were lower in May compared to a year earlier in all but 15 of 372 metropolitan areas – and in four of those areas, rates were unchanged, according to the government.

A dozen had rates of at least 10%.

Among the 49 metro areas with a population of more than 1 million people, the 8% unemployment rate in Riverside, San Bernardino and Ontario region tied as the highest with zones in Michigan and Massachusetts.

The government also tracks the number of workers who joined nonfarm payrolls over the year. The metropolitan area comprised of Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington, Texas saw the largest boost, with 113,100 workers added.

The Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana sector was next, boosting payrolls by 111,900 workers. The region’s unemployment rate is 7.2%, compared to 5% in the Bay Area swath that includes San Francisco, Oakland and Fremont.

Follow Tiffany Hsu on Twitter at @tiffhsulatimes