Unemployment Rate Hits Highest Level Since 1983

While the seasonal nature of agricultural work has been a constant for many years, the recession is exacerbating high unemployment in the regions. California has been at the forefront of the nation's housing boom and subsequent bust; the pain that that has caused to the state's construction industry has extended to Yuba City, Merced and El Centro.

"Merced was, for a number of years, one of the fastest growing areas in the country," said Mike Conway, a city spokesman. "It had a huge number of homes being built and had a large force engaged in construction work and related fields. When that bubble burst, those folks ended up being laid off."

Jobs at Borders: Bright Spots in Dim Times

Despite the "double whammy," as Conway put it, of the recession and the unsteady agricultural sector, all three areas boast some economic bright spots. Yuba City is home to Beale Airforce Base, which continues to develop new technology and which Moody's Economy.com predicts will remain "a stabilizing force" for the area's economy. Merced will receive millions in both state and federal stimulus aid that will be used to fund transportation and road construction work.

And El Centro, a border town, is continuing to focus on its commerce with Mexicali, Mexico, which is home to some of the highest paid residents in Mexico. Many, said El Centro City Manager Ruben Duran, cross the border to shop in El Centro while many El Centro residents head in the opposite direction to work in businesses in Mexicali.

Duran said El Centro is also using its low cost of living to attract new businesses.

"We have a whole economic development program of trying to relocate businesses here," he said. "We have a lot of success with companies leaving the coast."

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