Unemployment fell in more than 85 percent of the nation's largest metro areas in September, a sharp improvement from the previous month.
The Labor Department said Wednesday that the jobless rate dropped in 321 of the country's 372 metropolitan areas, while remaining the same in 20 and rising in 31. That compares to 230 metro areas that saw their rates fall in August and is the largest number of areas reporting improvement since April.
Thirteen cities, 9 of them in California, reported jobless rates of 15 percent or above, up slightly from 12 in the previous month. But the number of cities reporting unemployment above 10 percent fell steeply to 104, down from 124 in August and the lowest number since the recession ended in June 2009.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 9.6 percent in September, the same as the previous month. But the national data is adjusted for seasonal changes, such as farms hiring workers for agricultural harvests, or teachers and other school employees returning to work.
Excluding those adjustments, the national jobless rate dropped to 9.2 percent in September from 9.5 percent in August.
The metro employment data isn't adjusted to take into account seasonal trends, so it is volatile from month to month.
As a result, the cities with the biggest drops in unemployment were in heavily agricultural areas or in university towns where thousands of students returned to school in September.
The two cites with the biggest drops were Yakima, Wash., and Wenatchee-East Wenatchee, Wash., both of which are heavy apple producers. Yakima's jobless rate fell to 7.1 percent from 9 percent in August.
Wenatchee, which bills itself as the "Apple capital of the world," saw its rate fall to 6.3 percent in September from 7.7 percent.
State College, Penn., home to Penn State University, reported the fifth biggest drop in its jobless rate, to 5.6 percent from 6.5 percent the previous month.
El Centro, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., reported the two highest jobless rates, at 30.4 percent and 27.2 percent, respectively. The two areas are adjacent, have large numbers of migrant farm workers and experience extreme heat in the summer.
Bismarck, N.D., recorded the lowest unemployment rate in September, with 2.8 percent. Fargo, N.D., with 3.3 percent and Grand Forks, N.D., had the next lowest, at 3.3 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.
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