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Strife In The Big City: Jobless Rates Up

Unemployment rates moved higher in all of the nation's largest metropolitan areas in February with Indiana's Elkhart-Goshen and North Carolina's Hickory-Lenoir-Morgantown registering the biggest annual increases.

The U.S. Labor Department reported Wednesday that all 372 metropolitan areas tracked saw their jobless rates rise in February from a year earlier.

Elkhart-Goshen and Hickory-Lenoir-Morgantown were both hammered by manufacturing layoffs.

Eklhart-Goshen's jobless rate soared to 18 percent, up 12.5 percentage points. The area has been battered by layoffs in the recreational vehicle industry. RV makers Monaco Coach Corp., Keystone RV Co. and Pilgrim International have cut hundreds of jobs.

The unemployment rate in Hickory-Lenoir-Morgantown, hit by layoffs at furniture makers, jumped to 15.7 percent, a 9.3 percentage point increase.

Fallout from housing, credit and financial crises - the worst since the 1930s - is forcing companies to lay off workers and resort to other cost-saving measures to survive the recession.

3M Co., the maker of Scotch tape, Post-It Notes and other products, said Tuesday it's cutting another 1,200 jobs, or 1.5 percent of its work force, because of the global economic slump. Fewer than half the jobs will be in the U.S., but include "several hundred" in its home state of Minnesota, a company spokeswoman said. The 1,200 figure includes cuts made earlier in the first quarter.

The U.S. unemployment rate, released last month, rose to 8.1 percent in February, the highest in more than 25 years. Economists predict the national jobless rate will climb to 8.5 percent in March. The government releases that report on Friday. It will probably hit 10 percent by year-end even if the recession were to end later this year, they said.

El-Centro, Calif., continued to lay claim to the highest unemployment rate - 24.5 percent. The jobless rate is notoriously high in the area, where many unemployed are seasonal agriculture workers.

Following close behind were Merced, Calif., with a jobless rate of 19.9 percent, and Yuba City, Calif., at 18.9 percent. Elkhart-Goshen rounded out the top four.

Louisiana's Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux region had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.5 percent.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recession, which began in December 2007, could end this year, setting the stage for a recovery next year only if shaky financial markets are stabilized.

To brace the economy, the Fed has slashed a key bank lending rate to an all-time low and has embarked on a series of radical programs to inject billions of dollars into the financial system.

The Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus package includes money that will flow to states for public works projects, help them defray budget cuts, extend unemployment benefits and boost food stamp benefits. The administration also is counting on programs to prop up financial companies and reduce home foreclosures to help turn the economy around.

Companies are cutting jobs and other costs to survive the recession. Sales and profits have been hurt as consumers have hunkered down. That's caused the economy to shrink. Analysts believe the economy will keep on shrinking through the first six months of this year.

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