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Investigative reporter Bill Dedman of msnbc.com
By Bill Dedman Investigative reporter
NBC News
updated 4/20/2010 11:13:46 AM ET 2010-04-20T15:13:46

The recovery remains jobless for most of the nation, with only 16 of 384 metro areas showing job gains in the past year, according to new Adversity Index data for February from Moody's Analytics and msnbc.com.

Of the nation's 384 metro areas, 205 had begun to recover, or 53 percent, according to the February Adversity Index. That's up from 185 metro areas in January, or 48 percent.

But the gains have been confined to manufacturing and housing, not employment.

Moreover, the only areas showing jobs growth are low-population areas. Here is a list of the 16 areas (only 4 percent of the total) showing job gains in the three-month period ending February 2010 compared with the same period a year earlier. They're ranked by annualized growth in jobs:

  1. Ocean City, N.J., up 5.0 percent
  2. Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Wash., 3.1
  3. Bloomington, Ind., 2.1
  4. Jacksonville, N.C., 1.8
  5. Bismarck, N.D., 1.6
  6. Morgantown, W.Va.,  1.1
  7. College Station-Bryan, Texas, 1.0
  8. St. Joseph, Mo.-Kan., 0.9
  9. Cape Girardeau-Jackson, Mo.-Ill., 0.8
  10. Warner Robins, Ga., 0.6
  11. Barnstable, Cape Cod, Mass., 0.6
  12. State College, Pa., 0.5
  13. Lawton, Okla., 0.5
  14. Yakima, Wash., 0.4
  15. Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood, Texas, 0.1
  16. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif., 0.1

The largest of those areas — Killeen, Yakima and Barnstable — each have only about 300,000 people.

You can follow the fortunes of each metro area in the nation on our interactive map , which gives details for each metro area and state for the past 15 years.

Job losses in big cities
The 20 largest metro areas all showed jobs loss from a year earlier. Listed by size of metro area:

  • New York-White Plains-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J., down 2.8 percent
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif., -4.7
  • Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill.-Ind.-Wis., -4.5
  • Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas, -3.5
  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga., -4.3
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz., -5.4
  • Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas, -2.7
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.Va., -1.5
  • Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., -6.0
  • Philadelphia, Pa., -3.4
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wis., -3.8
  • San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif., -4.4
  • Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif., -5.2
  • Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y., -1.6
  • St. Louis, Mo.-Ill., -3.0
  • Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla., -4.0
  • Baltimore-Towson, Md., -2.9
  • Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash., -4.6
  • Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, Colo., -4.1
  • Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, Calif., -5.6

Although the economy is starting to expand, businesses are squeezing additional work out of the workers they have, not hiring more.

"Businesses cut back very severely in the recession, trimming payroll size and slashing remaining workers’ hours," explained economist Andrew Gledhill of Moody's Analytics. "The worst of this has passed, but what this means is that in the early stages of recovery, businesses can simply increase workers' hours to meet modest upticks in economic activity."

The good news is that the March employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the largest net job gain since March 2007, before the recession had begun.

"Improvement will be slow in the near term," Gledhill said, "and it will not be until perhaps late this and next year that job growth is strong enough to start bringing about a more significant labor market recovery."

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The Adversity Index was created by msnbc.com and Moody's Analytics to track the economic fortunes of states and metro areas. Each month, the Adversity Index uses government data on employment, industrial production, housing starts and home prices to label each area as expanding, at risk of recession, in recession or recovering.

"Recovering" doesn't mean "recovered." It doesn't mean that an area's economy is above where it was at the beginning of the recession, just that the area has begun to dig its way out of the hole.

The Adversity Index was designed to be a slow-moving indicator. It looks for sustained changes, so any one-month jump is likely to be smoothed out. This means the index is probably slow to call a beginning or end to a recession.

Gains in housing starts, manufacturing
The picture is brightest in housing starts: 306 metro areas showing gains from a year earlier. That's rising rapidly. In the period ending in January, 280 areas showed housing growth, up from December, 214; November, 171; October, 115; September, 97.

And manufacturing is also improving: 203 metro areas showing gains from a year earlier. That component of the index is rising even more rapidly. In the period ending in January only 49 areas showed growth in industrial production.

But in jobs, the number of metro areas with growth has barely budged: 16 metro areas in February; January, 13; December, 10; November, 7; October, 6; September, 6.

Overall, the index shows 205 metro areas in recovery; 177 in a "moderating recession," meaning their economies were still shrinking but not so severely as a few months earlier; a single metro area still in a full-bore recession: Laredo, Texas; and a single area in expansion, Jacksonville, N.C.

Areas joining a recovery
Metro areas that moved into the recovery category in February are: Boulder, Colo.; Burlington, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Elmira, N.Y.; Eugene-Springfield, Ore.; Gainesville, Fla.; La Crosse, Wis.-Minn.; Monroe, La.; Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y.; Niles-Benton Harbor, Mich.; Peabody, Mass.; Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, N.Y.; Pueblo, Colo.; Racine, Wis.; Rockford, Ill.; Salem, Ore.; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.; Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif.; Weirton-Steubenville, W.Va.-Ohio; Tallahassee, Fla.

Among the states, Nevada finally moved from the recession category to a moderating recession in February, the last state to escape the full recession. Twenty-five states are listed in recovery, including the District of Columbia, and 26 in a moderating recession. The new states moving into recovery in February were Colorado and Vermont.

‘Play’ the index
Here are several ways to explore this month's Adversity Index:

  • Our interactive map shows the economic health of every state and metro area. You can "play" the map on this page to watch the economy's ups and downs over 15 years, or select any state to see data for each metro area for each month.
  • The updated index will be published every month at adversity.msnbc.com. There is a lag of about six weeks.
  • An explainer tells how the Adversity Index assesses the economy.

Many areas include multiple counties, and many cross state lines. This list shows which counties are within each metro area.

A common question
How can some of the metro areas on our msnbc.com map be in "recovery," if the statistics shown for that area are negative?

The answer: Moody's status assessment (in recession, in recovery, etc.) compares six-month periods. But the stats shown on the map are one-year comparisons. (In both cases, moving averages .)

You see where this is headed. If the sharpest decline was more than 6 months ago, but less than 12 months ago, then both these things will be true at the same time in areas beginning a recovery: stats will have improved over 6 months earlier, with the metro area showing up in the recovery category, and also the year-over-year stats will still be negative.

This paradox will continue as long as areas recover, slowly, from a deep recession.

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