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Yuma posts nation's 2nd worst jobs numbers

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Yuma posts nation's 2nd worst jobs numbers

WASHINGTON – Yuma had the second-highest unemployment rate of any metropolitan area in the country in January, and tied for the biggest rate increase from a year earlier, new federal statistics show.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday that Yuma's unemployment rate of 24.5 percent in January trailed only the 26.4 percent rate of nearby El Centro, Calif.

The bureau also said Yuma's jobless rate grew by 1 percentage point from January 2011 to January 2012, an increase matched only by Lawton, Okla. Only 16 of the country's 372 metro areas saw jobless rate increases over the year.

Despite the grim findings, area economic officials expressed confidence that new projects coming to Yuma and a better agricultural market will boost the lagging local economy in 2012.

"We may take the bump right now but we are looking forward to a few things down the road that will give us some help," said city spokesman Dave Nash.

He said construction on a new federal courthouse is supplying jobs now and will bring even more once it opens in 2013.

Julie Engel, president and CEO of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Council, also pointed to projects tied to new F-35 fighter jets slated for the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma. She said that should create hundreds of jobs beginning this year.

Nash said relief can't come soon enough.

"We're concerned as it has direct impact on revenue for the city services," he said. "We're heavily dependent on sales taxes (and) we need people employed to keep our services going."

Yuma's high unemployment numbers are nothing new and January's statistics did not surprise observers. The city in the southwest corner of the state has consistently had one of the highest jobless rates in the country since the beginning of the recession.

Because of its rural economy, Yuma struggles more than urban areas and is affected by seasonal agricultural hiring, Engel said. When farm work lags, unemployment claims go up, which contributes to Yuma's historically high jobless rate, she said.

Ken Rosevear, executive director of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce, said the area's tourism sector was a bright spot last year, accounting for the city's slight advantage over nearby El Centro.

But that was offset by an underwhelming agricultural season, which spans from October to April, and stagnant housing and commercial construction, he said.

"We survived and we've been through this before," Rosevear said. "Next year we're sure we'll be better."

Rosevear said he expects Yuma's economy to improve this year but cautioned that the road to recovery will be a long one.

"It's going to happen in small bites," he said. "We're not going to see anything blossom. There's nothing that's really going to jump-start this."

Engel attributes the 2011 unemployment bump in part to the late-2010 closing of a longtime refrigeration products plant that cost a few hundred jobs. The retail industry also took a hit, she said.

Engel was not surprised by the new unemployment numbers, considering last year's challenges, but expects healthy economic growth in 2012.

"I'm a firm believer that it's definitely turning around and we're going to start seeing a lot of positive impact in the whole region," she said. "We really are in a recovery mode."

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