50 U.S. counties with the highest unemployment

The Labor Department announced in early August that the U.S. economy added 157,000 jobs in July. The announcement marked the 94th consecutive month of job growth, the longest period of uninterrupted employment growth in U.S. history.
Not every part of the United States has benefited equally from the job growth of recent years. In some counties, unemployment remains higher than the nationwide recent peak of 10.6 percent in the wake of the recession.

24/7 Wall Street reviewed May 2018 unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to identify the 50 counties with the highest unemployment. Unemployment rates on this list are not seasonally adjusted and range from 7.7 percent to over 20 percent -- well more than double the 3.6 percent national unemployment rate that month. In states without counties, county equivalents were considered. Counties, boroughs, and parishes are listed along with their administrative capital city, or seat. For unorganized boroughs in Alaska without an administrative capital, the largest city is listed.




Nearly every county on this list is in the western or southern United States. Only a handful are in the Midwest, and none are in the Northeast.

50. Merced County, California (tied)

• May unemployment: 7.7 percent
• Population: 265,001
• Poverty rate: 24.2 percent
• Median household income: $44,397
• County seat: Merced

49. Kern County, California (tied)

• May unemployment: 7.7 percent
• Population: 871,337
• Poverty rate: 23.1 percent
• Median household income: $49,788
• County seat: Bakersfield

48. Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska (tied)

• May unemployment: 7.7 percent
• Population: 57,637
• Poverty rate: 11.0 percent
• Median household income: $64,891
• Borough seat: Soldotna

47. Mingo County, West Virginia

• May unemployment: 7.8 percent
• Population: 25,549
• Poverty rate: 26.0 percent
• Median household income: $32,441
• County seat: Williamson

46. Big Horn County, Montana

• May unemployment: 7.9 percent
• Population: 13,214
• Poverty rate: 27.8 percent
• Median household income: $44,136
• County seat: Hardin

45. West Carroll Parish, Louisiana (tied)

• May unemployment: 7.9 percent
• Population: 11,370
• Poverty rate: 24.0 percent
• Median household income: $36,670
• Parish seat: Oak Grove

44. Madison Parish, Louisiana (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.0 percent
• Population: 11,803
• Poverty rate: 39.6 percent
• Median household income: $25,404
• Parish seat: Tallulah

43. McDowell County, West Virginia (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.0 percent
• Population: 20,273
• Poverty rate: 37.6 percent
• Median household income: $25,206
• County seat: Welch

42. Apache County, Arizona (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.0 percent
• Population: 72,346
• Poverty rate: 36.2 percent
• Median household income: $32,460
• County seat: St. Johns

41. Keweenaw County, Michigan (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.0 percent
• Population: 2,195
• Poverty rate: 17.0 percent
• Median household income: $41,472
• County seat: Eagle River

40. Montmorency County, Michigan (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.0 percent
• Population: 9,317
• Poverty rate: 16.3 percent
• Median household income: $37,145
• County seat: Atlanta

39. Morehouse Parish, Louisiana

• May unemployment: 8.1 percent
• Population: 26,739
• Poverty rate: 28.8 percent
• Median household income: $30,279
• Parish seat: Bastrop

38. Wilkinson County, Mississippi (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.3 percent
• Population: 9,233
• Poverty rate: 35.6 percent
• Median household income: $25,846
• County seat: Woodville

37. Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.3 percent
• Population: 98,679
• Poverty rate: 9.7 percent
• Median household income: $73,908
• Borough seat: Palmer

36. Humphreys County, Mississippi (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.4 percent
• Population: 8,822
• Poverty rate: 42.5 percent
• Median household income: $23,442
• County seat: Belzoni

35. Maverick County, Texas (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.4 percent
• Population: 56,830
• Poverty rate: 24.7 percent
• Median household income: $37,155
• County seat: Eagle Pass

34. Alger County, Michigan (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.4 percent
• Population: 9,396
• Poverty rate: 13.1 percent
• Median household income: $41,270
• County seat: Munising

33. Tulare County, California (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.5 percent
• Population: 455,769
• Poverty rate: 28.3 percent
• Median household income: $42,789
• County seat: Visalia

32. Haines Borough, Alaska (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.5 percent
• Population: 2,528
• Poverty rate: 5.3 percent
• Median household income: $53,125
• Borough seat: Haines

31. Petersburg Borough, Alaska (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.6 percent
• Population: N/A
• Poverty rate: N/A
• Median household income: N/A
• Borough seat: Petersburg

30. Issaquena County, Mississippi (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.6 percent
• Population: 1,352
• Poverty rate: 40.4 percent
• Median household income: $24,306
• County seat: Mayersville

29. Kemper County, Mississippi (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.6 percent
• Population: 10,128
• Poverty rate: 29.9 percent
• Median household income: $29,925
• County seat: De Kalb

28. Pocahontas County, West Virginia (tied)

• May unemployment: 8.6 percent
• Population: 8,620
• Poverty rate: 18.6 percent
• Median household income: $36,026
• County seat: Marlinton

27. Claiborne County, Mississippi

• May unemployment: 8.7 percent
• Population: 9,209
• Poverty rate: 41.2 percent
• Median household income: $25,000
• County seat: Port Gibson

26. Calhoun County, West Virginia

• May unemployment: 8.8 percent
• Population: 7,482
• Poverty rate: 15.9 percent
• Median household income: $39,384
• County seat: Grantsville

25. Wilcox County, Alabama

• May unemployment: 8.9 percent
• Population: 11,119
• Poverty rate: 34.9 percent
• Median household income: $24,442
• County seat: Camden

24. Zavala County, Texas

• May unemployment: 9.0 percent
• Population: 12,107
• Poverty rate: 35.8 percent
• Median household income: $26,639
• County seat: Crystal City

23. Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota (tied)

• May unemployment: 9.2 percent
• Population: N/A
• Poverty rate: N/A
• Median household income: N/A
• County seat: Hot Springs

22. Dillingham Census Area, Alaska (tied)

• May unemployment: 9.2 percent
• Population: 4,980
• Poverty rate: 16.5 percent
• Median household income: $56,055
• Largest city: Dillingham

21. East Carroll Parish, Louisiana

• May unemployment: 9.3 percent
• Population: 7,419
• Poverty rate: 48.7 percent
• Median household income: $22,093
• Parish seat: Lake Providence

20. Ontonagon County, Michigan

• May unemployment: 9.4 percent
• Population: 6,165
• Poverty rate: 15.2 percent
• Median household income: $35,038
• County seat: Ontonagon

19. Starr County, Texas

• May unemployment: 9.6 percent
• Population: 63,008
• Poverty rate: 37.6 percent
• Median household income: $26,682
• County seat: Rio Grande City

18. Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, Alaska

• May unemployment: 9.7 percent
• Population: 6,970
• Poverty rate: 13.6 percent
• Median household income: $63,713
• Largest city: Delta Junction

17. Holmes County, Mississippi

• May unemployment: 9.8 percent
• Population: 18,547
• Poverty rate: 45.0 percent
• Median household income: $20,800
• County seat: Lexington

16. Luna County, New Mexico

• May unemployment: 10.5 percent
• Population: 24,627
• Poverty rate: 29.5 percent
• Median household income: $27,326
• County seat: Deming

15. Willacy County, Texas

• May unemployment: 11.0 percent
• Population: 21,944
• Poverty rate: 37.2 percent
• Median household income: $28,817
• County seat: Raymondville

14. Hoonah-Angoon Census Area, Alaska

• May unemployment: 11.1 percent
• Population: 2,107
• Poverty rate: 12.3 percent
• Median household income: $54,091
• Largest city: Hoonah

13. Colusa County, California

• May unemployment: 11.5 percent
• Population: 21,361
• Poverty rate: 13.5 percent
• Median household income: $54,946
• County seat: Colusa

12. Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area, Alaska

• May unemployment: 11.6 percent
• Population: 6,374
• Poverty rate: 14.9 percent
• Median household income: $51,887
• Largest city: Craig

11. Ferry County, Washington

• May unemployment: 11.9 percent
• Population: 7,639
• Poverty rate: 23.5 percent
• Median household income: $39,555
• County seat: Republic

10. Magoffin County, Kentucky

• May unemployment: 12.0 percent
• Population: 12,887
• Poverty rate: 29.5 percent
• Median household income: $29,463
• County seat: Slayersville

9. Lake and Peninsula Borough, Alaska

• May unemployment: 12.4 percent
• Population: 1,411
• Poverty rate: 18.8 percent
• Median household income: $43,864
• Borough seat: King Salmon

8. Jefferson County, Mississippi

• May unemployment: 12.9 percent
• Population: 7,528
• Poverty rate: 39.7 percent
• Median household income: $23,773
• County seat: Fayette

7. Nome Census Area, Alaska

• May unemployment: 13.5 percent
• Population: 9,879
• Poverty rate: 27.0 percent
• Median household income: $51,563
• Largest city: Nome

6. Bethel Census Area, Alaska

• May unemployment: 14.2 percent
• Population: 17,885
• Poverty rate: 26.6 percent
• Median household income: $53,296
• Largest city: Bethel

5. Imperial County, California

• May unemployment: 15.6 percent
• Population: 178,807
• Poverty rate: 24.1 percent
• Median household income: $42,560
• County seat: El Centro

4. Yuma County, Arizona

• May unemployment: 16.0 percent
• Population: 203,292
• Poverty rate: 20.5 percent
• Median household income: $41,467
• County seat: Yuma

3. Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska

• May unemployment: 16.8 percent
• Population: 7,723
• Poverty rate: 24.5 percent
• Median household income: $61,341
• Borough seat: Kotzebue

2. Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska

• May unemployment: 17.6 percent
• Population: 5,600
• Poverty rate: 23.5 percent
• Median household income: $38,451
• Largest city: Fort Yukon

1. Kusilvak Census Area, Alaska

• May unemployment: 21.8 percent
• Population: N/A
• Poverty rate: N/A
• Median household income: N/A
• Largest city: Hooper Bay

Detailed findings

While unemployment is a far larger problem in the counties on this list than it is nationwide, they often closely mirror the nationwide improvements of the last half-decade. In the last five years, U.S. unemployment improved by 3.7 percentage points -- from 7.3 percent to 3.6 percent. Similarly, in 43 of the counties on this list unemployment also declined in the last five years. In over half them, the jobless rate has improved faster than the national improvement.
However, in many cases, declining unemployment rates are not the result of an uptick in hiring, but rather of declining labor force participation. In the last five years, the total number of U.S. workers increased by 3.9 percent. In 38 of the 50 counties on this list, the size of the labor force declined, sometimes by large degrees. In Magoffin County, Kentucky the size of the labor force plunged by 26.7 percent.

In many counties on this list, the high unemployment rates are partially attributable to downturns in industries that serve as pillars to the local economy.
Oil prices collapsed in 2014 and bottomed out in 2016, when a barrel of oil sold for a third of what it did two years prior. America’s oil industry was not spared. Over the 28 months from December 2014 to March 2017, total U.S. employment in oil and gas extraction tanked by 28 percent, from over 200,000 to less than 145,000. In over a dozen counties on this list, natural resources and mining -- which includes oil and gas extraction -- ranks among the top three industries by total employment.
The unemployment rate is perhaps the most widely cited indicator of economic strength or weakness in the United States and, by several other measures, the economies of the counties on this list appear to be struggling.
Residents who earn higher incomes can help bolster a local economy, as more disposable income often translates to greater spending. Only five counties on this list have a higher median household income than the national median of $55,322 a year.
Similarly, the vast majority of counties on this list are home to a larger share of residents living in poverty than the 15.2 percent U.S. poverty rate.
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