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12 Cities With the Lowest Unemployment Rates in the Country

Motley Fool Staff, The Motley Fool
Road sign reading new job just ahead.

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Cities where jobs abound

If the economy is sputtering or leaves a little to be desired where you live or where your loved ones live, you might like to be aware of some regions in the U.S. where there are plenty of jobs to be found.

You may not be too interested in packing up and moving, but for some people, it's a smart move to relocate to a more burgeoning area, where financial worries will be fewer and advancement will be easier.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly reports on unemployment levels across the country. From its latest data, here are the 12 cities with the lowest unemployment rates in the country. 

ALSO READ: Should You Move for a Job?


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Bell tower at Iowa State University.

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1. Ames, Iowa

Ames tops the list of 12 metropolitan regions with the lowest unemployment, with a rate of merely 1.7%, as compared with the national rate of 4.1%. (That national rate is also on the low side, historically speaking.) Top employers there include Iowa State University (more than 10,000 employees), the Iowa Department of Transportation (2,000 to 5,000 employees), the Mary Greeley Medical Center (1,000 to 2,000 employees), and Danfoss (1,000 to 2,000 employees). At Glassdoor.com, Iowa State University gets particularly high marks as an employer, rating 4 1/2 stars out of 5.   

Ames offers a low cost of living, too. The city describes itself this way: "A perfect balance of small-town life with big-city amenities, Ames offers an educated workforce, award-winning utilities, nationally recognized schools, the very best in health care and a wonderful community to put down roots and grow."












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Aerial beach view of Wailuku, Hawaii.

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2. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii

The three towns of Kahului, Wailuku, and Lahaina, on the island of Maui in Hawaii, make up a metropolitan statistical area that is tied for second place for unemployment levels, with only 1.9% of the labor force unemployed. The region recently had a median household income of $68,771, along with a median home value of $528,500. That can be a challenge, financially, and it's forcing many people to leave the area, which is helping lower unemployment rates.

Many people in Maui work in the lodging and food service industry, along with real estate and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting -- which is not surprising, given that Hawaii is a major tourist destination. Top employers in Maui include fancy hotels such as the Waldorf Astoria, Four Seasons, and Ritz Carlton, as well lots of other hospitality businesses, along with the Maui Memorial Medical Center, Walmart, and the police department.












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Honolulu coast line with rainbow.

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3. Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii, is tied with the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina region for second place in unemployment, with only 1.9% of its workforce out of work. Like Kahului, Wailuku, and Lahaina, Honolulu is also a place with relatively astronomical median home values (recently $665,600) and relatively normal median incomes (recently $78,309), which has been driving many people away and thereby boosting job opportunities for those who can afford to live there. The cost of living is about 43% above average.

Top employers in Honolulu County include personnel specialist Altres Industrial (about 10,000 employees), the Kapiolani Medical Center (5,000), the Queen's Medical Center (3,928), and Hawaii Health Systems (3,400).












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Illustration depicting Iowa City, Iowa.

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4. Iowa City, Iowa

We go back to Iowa for the metropolitan area with the fourth-lowest unemployment rate. Iowa City boasts only 2.1% of its labor force out of work. Iowa City residents aren't as financial challenged as those in areas with steep costs of living. The median home value is about $214,200, and the median household income was recently around $42,720.

A recent article in the Iowa City Press-Citizen pointed to a healthy economy, saying, "More than 80% of our local interstate commerce companies view their core products as emerging or growing, and 87% plan to launch new products and services in the next two years." Top employers in Iowa City include the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine (about 11,000 employees), the City of Iowa City (10,000), Ferrellgas (3,908), and other University of Iowa divisions, such as healthcare and hospitals.





ALSO READ: More Than 1 in 4 Workers Would Move For a Job







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Welcome to Indiana sign.

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5. Elkhart and Goshen, Indiana

The Indiana towns of Elkhart and Goshen make up a statistical region that ranks fifth in unemployment in the U.S., with only 2.2% of its workforce unemployed. They're both in Elkhart County, a bit outside the city of South Bend.

Why are they on this list? Well, their fortunes have changed lately. Elkhart used to have one of America's highest unemployment rates -- about 20% in 2009 -- but there have more recently been labor shortages and rising wages. The town is America's recreational vehicle (RV) capital, with close to 90% of all RVs built there -- and that business has been doing quite well lately. With manufacturing jobs plentiful, the Indiana Star noted that, "Elkhart is among few places in America in 2018 where you have an extremely good chance to get a high-paying job -- the average hourly salary is $22.96 -- without a college degree." Top employers in Elkhart County include manufacturers Thor Industries (recently with 13,662 workers) and Forest River (10,000), along with Beacon Health System (2,600) and Elkhart Community Schools (1,800).












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City of Burlington, VT at night.

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6. Burlington and South Burlington, Vermont

The towns of Burlington and South Burlington in Vermont rank sixth in the towns with the lowest unemployment rates in the country. They feature only 2.3% of their workforce out of work. The median home value in Burlington was recently $330,000, and the median household income $82,400. Cost of living estimates vary, but the folks at Payscale.com have pegged Burlington's at 21% above the national average. Fortunately, incomes are generally above average, as well.

The area's top industries include manufacturing, tourism, and finance, with manufacturing jobs significantly in electronics. According to city-data.com, items produced in the greater Burlington area include "electronics and computer parts; food products; textiles; apparel; lumber; paper and wood products; furniture and fixtures; chemicals and allied products; petroleum, coal, rubber, plastic, leather, stone, clay, and glass products; toys; jewelry; primary and fabricated metals; machinery and electrical equipment; instruments." Top employers in the Burlingtons include the University of Vermont Medical Center (recently with a workforce of 6,405), the Air National Guard (980), and IBM in nearby Essex Junction (5,400). The state's "Think Vermont!" campaign and website aims to lure workers to its growing economy, craft breweries, maple syrup, and progressive culture.












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Wisconsin state capitol building at dusk.

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7. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison is in a three-way tie for seventh place on the list of the U.S. cities and regions with the lowest unemployment. Only 2.4% of its labor force is out of work, which is significantly less than America's overall unemployment rate of 4.1%. The cost of living in Madison is about 9% above average, with the median home value recently $250,200.

Madison is a bit different from the rest of the state, with Kenan Fikri of the Economic Innovation Group noting, "Madison has a classic, purely high-end professional services and knowledge economy that is doing really well." That makes sense, as it's a big college town. Top employers in the county include the University of Wisconsin at Madison (recently with a workforce of more than 10,000), UW Health (15,000), and American Standard Insurance (4,000). Other employers include Epic Systems Corp, American Family Insurance, Covance Laboratories, CUNA Mutual, and Sub-Zero Inc.












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Oil rig drilling in the sunset.

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8. Midland, Texas

Midland is in a three-way tie for seventh place on the list of the U.S. cities and regions with the lowest unemployment. About 2.4% of its working population is currently jobless. The median home value was recently $216,000, up almost 9% over the previous year, and reflecting an economy that is being boosted by rising oil prices. Advances in technology are also helping the oil industry extract more from each acre, increasing profits further. 

It's not surprising that the key industry in Midland is oil and gas, but it's not the only significant one operating there. There are also jobs in aerospace, ranching, agriculture, mining, health care, and transportation, among others. Top employers in the area include local public schools and colleges, many national retailers, and gobs of oil- and gas-related business such as ConocoPhillips, Halliburton Energy Services, Chevron ,  EOG Resources, Dawson Geophysical, and many others.





ALSO READ: Could You Survive 6 Months of Unemployment? Most Americans Can't







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A waterfront city.

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9. Portland and South Portland, Maine

Most people have heard how Portland, Oregon, is booming -- but Portland, Maine, isn't doing too shabby, either. Rounding out the three-way tie for seventh place on the list of the U.S. cities and regions with the lowest unemployment are the towns of Portland and South Portland, in Maine. They feature unemployment rates of just 2.4%. The median home value in Portland was recently $293,200, up about 8% over the previous year, while South Portland sported a median of $273,400, up only 6%.

Maine is home to more than just a tourism industry, and the Portland-South Portland area has been accounting for much of the state's economic growth lately. Commercial real estate has been growing, as has the local International Marine Terminal. One challenge the state faces is an aging workforce -- so attempts are being made to draw younger workers, in part by dispelling any sterotypes of remote, frigid wildernesses. A recent beacon of economic hope is the animal health industry, which has been expanding in the area via investments by companies such as Idexx Laboratories, Dechra Pharmaceuticals PLC, ImmuCell, and Vets First Choice. Top employers in the area include TD Banknorth, Maine Medical Center, Unum Life Insurance, as well as public schools, governments, and local colleges.












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City of Boulder illustration.

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10. Boulder, Colorado

Boulder, Colorado, is in a three-way tie for 10th place on the list of the U.S. cities and regions with the lowest unemployment. It has only 2.5% of its labor force unemployed. Like the low-unemployment areas in Hawaii, though, Boulder presents a financial challenge, with median home prices recently $717,400 -- and growing. It can be hard to work in a region where home prices are hard to afford. Estimates of costs of living vary, but the folks at salaryexpert.com recently pegged the Boulder area's cost of living at 31% above the national average.

Top employers in the Boulder area include the University of Colorado at Boulder (recently with more than 13,300 workers), the University of Boulder (4,500), and Boulder County (2,500). There are many technology companies operating in and around Boulder, too, in part because of its well-educated population. The area recently boasted the highest percentage of college-educated adults in the country, at 61%. Some other notable local employers include IBM, Covidien, Seagate Technology, Amgen, Crocs, Wells Fargo, and Google, subsidiary of Alphabet.












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Indiana state flag.

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11. Columbus, Indiana

Columbus, Indiana, home to Vice President Mike Pence, is also tied for 10th place on the list of U.S. cities and regions with the lowest unemployment, with a rate of just 2.5%. The city is near Indianapolis and Bloomington, offering smaller-town charm and affordable living. The median home value was recently $144,300, and, per Forbes, the median household income $57,301.

Partly driving Columbus's success is an educated workforce, with about a third of its adult population having at least a college degree. Manufacturing dominates the area, and the most notable employer in Columbus is engine maker Cummins. The danger there, though, is having too much of the region's fortunes tied to a major employer, as some are worrying whether Cummins can sustain its recent growth rates. Other employers in Columbus include NTN Driveshaft and France-based auto parts maker Faurecia, and the Indian company AXISCADES plans to set its U.S. headquarters there.

ALSO READ: Why Cummins Is Struggling to Reassure Nervous Investors

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Aerial view of Fort Collins, Colorado.

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12. Fort Collins, Colorado

Fort Collins, Colorado, rounds out the three regions tied for 10th place on the list of U.S. cities with the lowest unemployment, with just 2.5% of its workforce out of work. The median home value is steeper than the national average, recently at $376,600. Median household income was $68,135, per Forbes.

Top employers in or near Fort Collins include Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Health, with other notable employers including Meritage Homes, Anheuser Busch InBev, Kaiser Permanente, Toll Brothers, Columbine Health Systems, First National Bank, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Wells Fargo. Though the economy has been doing well in Fort Collins, some foresee a pullback, in part due to rising minimum wages which are leading some companies to lay off some workers.


Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Selena Maranjian owns shares of Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amgen, Cummins, IBM, and Seagate Technology. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Cummins, and Idexx Laboratories. The Motley Fool recommends Meritage Homes and Thor Industries. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.












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