The regional differences in the U.S. job market

A general view of downtown Oklahoma City as fans gather outside Oklahoma City Arena on May 23, 2011 in Oklahoma City, Okla. The city is doing the best in the nation in terms of the jobs outlook.

Stacey Vanek Smith: U.S. consumers are paying down their debts more easily. On time payments of consumer loans in the last three months of last year were looking the best they have since 2004.

The American Bankers Association says their data showed a big improvement in the payment of car loans, credit cards and other debts. Delinquencies fell to less than 2.5 percent. The report does exclude mortgage debt. That good news is a sign that people are getting a handle on their debt and maybe feeling better about their financial situations.

And that brings us to our weekly Attitude Check, our partnership with Gallup. Frank Newport is editor-in-chief of Gallup and he joins me now. Good morning, Frank.

Frank Newport: Hello.

Smith: So, we've been hearing a lot about the slowly recovering economy and job market. But what are some of the regional differences -- in terms of cities, and places where the job market is the best and the worst in the country?

Newport: Boy there are some differences. Oklahoma City is the place to be.

Smith: Not only does the wind come sweeping down the plains -- you can get a job?

Newport: Absolutely. It had the most positive job creation index of any place that we've looked at over the last year. Now this is not related to unemployment -- because unemployment, you know, has denominators based on how many people are looking for work. But it so happens that in Oklahoma City, the unemployment rate last time I looked at it was 5.9 percent. So indeed, that's kind of a verification that it's a great place to be. The other in the top five are: Pittsburgh, Richmond, Va., Nashville, and Orlando.

Smith: Do we have any idea of why the jobs situation looks so good there?

Newport: You know, it's very varied. We looked around to try to see if there was some commonality. In the top 10, we do have Houston, and San Antonio. And one of the top 10 cities -- although California's pretty bad in general -- is Silicon Valley; San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Calif. Now that's obvious -- things booming out there.

But otherwise, it seems to be a variety of different kinds of industries that are fueling the positive job creation; because Pittsburgh has a different situation than Oklahoma City, and that in turn is quite a bit different than Orlando.

But on the other hand, you know what's on the very bottom? Absolute worst place to be, at least based on ours, is Providence, R.I.

Smith: Really?

Newport: The working residents of Providence were most likely to tell us that their companies where they worked were letting people go, and not hiring. And then -- speaking about old Eastern cities -- Buffalo is also in the bottom five.

Smith: Well what about confidence -- how much does that relate with jobs? Are some places more confident than others?

Newport: Oh absolutely. We calculate our consumer confidence index -- we call it economic confidence, same thing, we look at cities. And it's not always correlated -- in fact, guess what area had the most positive residents about the economy? Our nation's capital, Washington D.C.

Smith: That's kind of nice that there's so much optimism in D.C.

Newport: Well, I guess if you're a hardcore conservative, you wouldn't say that was nice, because they know there are a lot of federal jobs there, although they are trying to cut back. I guess it depends on how you look at it. But those residents are very positive. Also, people in Memphis and Salt Lake City and back down in Texas, in Austin, Texas. And again Richmond. And the place you don't want to be if you want to be around optimists if Buffalo, N.Y. -- the least economically confident city in the major metropolitan areas of any one that we looked at.

Smith: Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of Gallup. Frank, thank you.

Newport: My pleasure.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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