El Centro Tries to Explain High Unemployment Rate

By Ruxandra Guidi
November 12, 2010

Photo by Ruxandra Guidi
Two construction workers head back to Mexico through the Calexico border crossing after a day's work.

EL CENTRO, Calif. -- El Centro residents don't like being labeled as the "unemployment capital" of the U.S.

Mayor Cheryl Viegas-Walker said the city is building a new headquarters for the fire department, and it hasn't laid off a single city employee in a year.

But still, she said, the focus is on El Centro's 30 percent unemployment rate.

"That doesn't mean that 30 percent of those people are chronically unemployed," she said from her office in downtown El Centro. "It very well means that there's a segment of our population that is unemployed at any point in time."

El Centro is the 9th largest agricultural economy in the state of California.

Viegas-Walker said the seasonal nature of the agricultural labor force and the proximity to Mexico make getting out of the current economic downturn especially difficult here.

"Also we are a very sparsely populated county, probably around 175,000 people, and we have a very young community," she added.