Nationwide, 4.4% of the American labor force is unemployed, a large improvement from the recessionary unemployment peak of 9.9% in 2010. In the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area, the unemployment rate of 3.7% is lower than the national figure and far lower than the city’s recessionary peak unemployment rate of 6.5%.
The industry composition within a city can have a major impact on its job market. Nationwide, 6.3% of American leisure and hospitality workers are unemployed, the largest share of any U.S. industry. Meanwhile, just 2.2% of federal, state, and local government workers are unemployed, the lowest jobless rate of any industry. In the D.C. metro area, 10.4% of all workers are employed in the leisure and hospitality industry, and 14.5% of workers are employed in government. By comparison, 11.1% of American workers nationwide work in leisure and hospitality, and 15.1% work in government.
Compared to less urban areas, cities tend to have more diversified economies, which may preserve the health of the job market to some extent if one major industry struggles. While many of the cities with less diverse economies have one industry accounting for more than 30% of employment, in D.C., the largest industry, professional and business services, accounts for 22.5% of total employment.
Like most large metro areas, the Washington, D.C. economy expanded as it recovered from the recession. As unemployment fell by 2.8 percentage points since 2010, the labor force expanded by 227,253 workers.
Large cities often attract college graduates, and as a result may weather recessions better and recover from periods of high unemployment faster. While the share of adults with a bachelor’s degree is 25.3% in metropolitan areas with less than 250,000 residents, the college attainment rate in cities with more than 2.5 million residents is 36.2%. In the Washington metro area, which is home to 6.1 million people, 49.3% of adults have a bachelor’s degree.