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Job Search Difficulty Index Shows Challenges for Job Seekers in US

Job Search Difficulty Index Shows Challenges for Job Seekers in US

by Joseph ShaheenAugust 21, 2014

Seek4Career a leading online job search site, has recently conducted research which discusses the degree of difficulty an individual looking for work may face based on their demographics. Seek4Career has published this data in their The Job Search Difficulty Index report. The index divides the total number of unemployed workers in a major metropolitan complex by the total number of advertised jobs in the same geographical region.

Data from The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ‘Civilian labor force and unemployment by state and metropolitan area’ report (published February 05, 2014) were compiled, used and published in the comprehensive survey in an effort to help job seekers gauge their opportunities to gain employment based on their city of residence. The wide-ranging survey also utilized the all encompassing Seek4Career database to determine the number of advertised jobs available in the metropolitan areas that were polled as part of the overall unemployment study. Specific criteria was identified and categorized for easy reading and effective use by the reader and prospective employment agencies or research institutions.

The survey was published in order from the least to most difficult cities in which to find a job. Each city was then further subdivided into categories by popular industries as well as open positions within those industries. Seek4Career offers job seekers a more in-depth review of open jobs as well as direct links to apply for them. The site breaks down the top jobs and the top hiring companies in each city. These practical tools are both useful and easy for job seekers to navigate. Some of the most relevant findings from that recent survey include:

Top Ten Cities for Job Seekers

Only eleven of the fifty cities reviewed were able to boast an approximate 1:1 ratio of jobs to job seekers. In these cities, job seekers would theoretically be able to find employment fairly easily because there were between 1.21 and 1.99 unemployed people for every one job listing that was posted. The top ten, or in this case eleven, cities for job seekers include:

  1. San Jose, California – 1.21 unemployed people per every available job
  2. Salt Lake City, Utah – 1.23 unemployed people per every available job
  3. Omaha, Nebraska – 1.25 unemployed people per every available job
  4. Austin, Texas – 1.39 unemployed people per every available job
  5. Washington, DC – 1.45 unemployed people per every available job
  6. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – 1.56 unemployed people per every available job
  7. Seattle, Washington – 1.60 unemployed people per every available job
  8. Denver, Colorado – 1.62 unemployed people per every available job
  9. Tulsa, Oklahoma – 1.66 unemployed people per every available job
  10. Houston, Texas – 1.90 unemployed people per every available job
  11. Raleigh, North Carolina – 1.99 unemployed people per every available job

A Closer Look at the Least Challenging Cities in the Nation

The findings of this profile survey are accurate, but do not necessarily paint a complete picture of the job market in these cities. While the study represents the total number of jobs advertised and the total number of job seekers, it does not show the relationship between the two. Several factors will impact how the total number of available jobs truly relates to the workforce and those individuals who are seeking employment.

One major factor is the types of industries that are hiring compared to the skill sets and education levels of the unemployed population. For example, if the open jobs are minimum wage openings and the job seekers are MBA holders, the two are not a match and the statistics are irrelevant for those who are out of work. The same situation works in reverse; if executive level positions are open but the unemployed workforce have not received education beyond the high school level, there is no possibility for them to fill the open positions. Specialized sites such as can help employers and employees connect to fill applicable positions with qualified employees. Without this association, the unemployment rate still looks bleak for job seekers – despite what surveys such as this show about the total number of advertised jobs.

Another factor regarding industries that are posting multiple jobs within a metropolitan area is the fluidity of the available job market. An example of this would be cities that are undergoing excessive new construction or redevelopment. These projects, which frequently include temporary government funding, are not typically long term job opportunities. This is especially true for the design and construction industries. When buildings and roadways are complete, these construction jobs may dissipate and make way for new career opportunities for individuals who will occupy and maintain the newly constructed buildings. In essence, approximately the same number of jobs will be available at any given time, but the overall impact on the unemployed workforce may be very different based on the types of jobs that are being made available.

Ten Most Challenging Cities for Job Seekers

Skipping directly to the bottom of the survey list reveals some cities that present very difficult challenges for average job seekers. The ratio of the best cities for employment opportunities was about one job for every unemployed person. The situation is very different at the end of the list however, where there are more than eleven people vying for every one available job. There is a fairly wide disparity among the most challenging cities for job seekers, and some potential causes for the disproportion will be discussed.

  • Los Angeles, California – 11.29 unemployed people per every available job
  • Detroit, Michigan – 10.94 unemployed people per every available job
  • Miami, Florida – 8.17 unemployed people per every available job
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 6.11 unemployed people per every available job
  • Sacramento, California – 5.82 unemployed people per every available job
  • Chicago, Illinois – 4.33 unemployed people per every available job
  • New York, New York – 4.03 unemployed people per every available job
  • Las Vegas, Nevada – 3.97 unemployed people per every available job
  • Memphis, Tennessee – 3.73 unemployed people per every available job
  • Cincinnati, Ohio – 3.63 unemployed people per every available job

A Closer Look at the Most Challenging Cities in the Nation

Some of these figures are merely surprising, and some are jaw-dropping. However, there are at least some plausible explanations for the major disparity among cities like Los Angeles and Cincinnati. The first consideration is the overall population and how frequently it changes. For example, Los Angeles is a very popular destination site for many reasons, including weather and celebrity infatuation. A large number of people relocate to Los Angeles on an annual basis, accounting for the consistent influx of people vying for a limited number of jobs. On the other hand, Cincinnati is not necessarily considered a desirable place for people to relocate in large numbers, for employment or other purposes. These circumstances surrounding the frequent population changes account for the vast differences in available jobs in comparison to the unemployed residents.

Another reason some major metropolitan areas are subject to higher unemployment rates and a lower number of jobs available per job seeker are the specific industry niches located within those cities. For example, it should be no surprise that cities such as Detroit and Los Angeles appear on the list of most challenging cities for job seekers. These cities are primarily known for their significant roles in the automotive and entertainment industries, respectively. When major layoff situations occurred in Detroit, the city had a very difficult time bouncing back and in many ways has not recovered from the devastating loss of jobs. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of hopeful artists, actors, performers and theatrical types pass through Los Angeles each year, hoping to be discovered by an agent. Their ultimate dream is to become a famous celebrity and live a life of fame and fortune. Often times, the reality is very different from the dream and these workers end up taking odd jobs or making a career out of the restaurant service position that was supposed to be a way to pay rent until the bid audition finally panned out.

Analyzing Cities with the Most Typical Employment Challenges

After reviewing the best and the worst cities for job seekers, the survey research turns its focus toward the other 29 cities that tend to fall somewhere in the middle. Overall, there was an average of three unemployed workers per every position advertised among the remaining cities. These metropolitan areas are not without challenges to job seekers, yet they are not without hope for job seekers, either. There are similar characteristics within these cities that are also present among cities that appear on the most challenging list and were previously discussed.

For example, Pittsburgh and Nashville both face industry-specific challenges similar to those found in cities like Detroit and Los Angeles. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania parallels the automotive industry of Detroit with its steel and coal production, while Nashville, Tennessee is known as The Country Music Capital of the World, a well known town for entertainment, much like Los Angeles. Yet their unemployed populations compared to jobs available are 3.61 for Pittsburgh and 2.42 for Nashville.

These statistics show that there are approximately seven more unemployed workers in Detroit and Los Angeles for each available job than there are in cities like Pittsburgh and Nashville. Practical and recent data is available from reputable employment sites like that can explain some of this inequality between seemingly similar cities and their employment opportunities. One of the most obvious and notable observations is the total population of each city. The city of Pittsburgh housed a population of 307,211 while the city of Detroit was home to 706,585 people as of the most recent census. Although the populations listed here include all residents, whether they are considered part of the active workforce or not, there is an obvious gap in the overall populations of these two cities. Likewise, approximately 609,644 people consider Nashville their home, while Los Angeles is a mega-city which houses about 3.82 million people as of the most recent census available. Here again, the population difference is astounding and easily explains the higher number of unemployed persons per available jobs between the two entertainment giants.


The average unemployment rate in the United States is approximately 9%, but it is important to know if and how this statistic plays into the data provided. Ultimately, each state has a different unemployment rate and all 50 states will factor into the national average with a separate weight. The real comparison is how the most challenging metropolitan areas are impacting the total unemployment rates in their respective states. Likewise, statisticians can also compare the effect that the least challenging cities for job seekers may have and how they can positively impact the unemployment rates for their home states.

Unemployment rates have a unique ability to oversimplify a common problem. While the flat number represents the percentage of the total population that is not working, it does not break down any of the data or clearly explain how the arbitrary number was derived. Therefore, more detailed analysis is required to fully understand how job seekers and employers can find common ground. Statistics that are broken down into specific criteria such as location, education and industry are more reliable and more informative. As a result, this data can be effectively used to compare cities and prospective employment opportunities for job seekers and business owners alike.


Unemployment is not the only problem that must be fully understood and addressed. There is a major problem among the workforce within the United States that has consistently risen over the past decade. Underemployment affects as many families and individuals as unemployment, perhaps even more. This situation occurs when a worker is employed but the employment opportunity is insufficient to meet the needs of the individual and/or their family. This could mean low paying part-time work, sporadic hours or otherwise inadequate wages. In some cases, underemployment is actually worse than unemployment because states typically do not pay benefits such as unemployment compensation and other social services programs when an individual is employed. Recently, there have been notable exceptions to this general rule.

Detroit, Michigan is one such groundbreaking example. Government officials have realized the devastation that massive unemployment and unexpected job losses have had on the citizens. As a result, the city has issued the approval to provide weekly stipends for individuals who have lost their jobs completely or who have suffered a significant loss in total hours worked. This temporary stipend allows workers to maintain a standard of living while attempting to find more gainful employment.

The living wage debate is another example of the realization that the United States must address the challenges that job seekers face. Since the introduction of a standard minimum wage and other labor laws, there have been disputes between employers, employees and labor unions. As the prevailing wage concept began to gain momentum, the unemployment and underemployment statistics were already at dangerously high levels. As the debate continues, job seekers remain caught in the middle without a clear sense of direction. There are valid concerns for both employers and employees with regard to the living wage, but at least the acknowledgment is a step in the right direction.

Job Seekers and Chronic Unemployment

There are unique situations that are quite common but do not fit neatly into any of the aforementioned statistical data. Although these events may not readily appear in research questionnaires or the resulting surveys, they nonetheless impact the reports published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Temporary workers, migrant workers and authorized immigrants who seek employment or unemployment compensation represent a small percentage of the workforce population in the United States. These individuals may not be permanent fixtures in the workforce, but are still affected by the same challenges of other job seekers in various cities throughout the country.

There is also the consideration of those individuals who are unemployed but not actively seeking viable employment options. This can include students, homemakers, parents who choose childrearing over working outside the home, retirees and temporarily or partially disabled individuals. These non-working individuals, regardless of their specific situations, will be counted in the national unemployment percentage rates. However, they will not appear in studies like the ones conducted by Seek4Career because these targeted studies focus on job seekers as opposed to the unemployed. The labels seem similar but they are certainly not interchangeable. Only one of these groups, the job seekers, actively seeks out possible employment opportunities.

Chronic unemployment also affects a growing number of the population but is often overlooked in national statistics and employment research data. Individuals struggling with chronic or intermittent illnesses or diseases such as alcoholism are considered unemployed, but are actually not in a position to consistently and actively contribute to the workforce. Consumption and other addictions as well as mental health and personality disorders such as depressive, anxiety and bio-polar disorders are also included in this group. As these conditions worsen and additional people are diagnosed with one or more of the afflictions, the overall unemployment rates could become even further skewed. Likewise, there is a positive correlation between some of these conditions and metropolitan areas that are already challenging for job seekers. Depressed urban areas often have higher overall crime rates and lower overall education programs and a lower number of high school graduates. Whether or not there is a direct link between these data markers, there is no doubt that the correlation exists and further exacerbates the challenges of jobs seekers in these job markets.

Solutions for Challenged Job Seekers

Job seekers need practical advice and feasible support during their employment searches. Online job searches are one of the most popular and effective ways that employers and employee can interact. They provide an easy way for employers to search resumes that contain keywords pertinent to their open positions. Likewise, employees can post resumes that apply to specific job categories, and many sites allow job seekers to create several resumes and name them according to the type of jobs they are seeking. Although there are many online employment search options, they are not all equally created and do not all contain the same beneficial features.

Features of Effective Employment Search Engines

Large databases may contain a plethora of great information but they are essentially useless if they are not very well-organized or easily searchable. Employment search engines are especially frustrating for job seekers if they do not function as expected. There are some basic criteria that an online employment search engine site should contain to be effective.

First, these sites must be mutually beneficial for potential employers and employees to make posts and upload information. If a site is not adequately balanced, there will either be too many job postings or too many applicants per job posting. Either one of these situations can be overwhelming for employers and employees. There should also be a convenient place for the two groups to interact, ask questions and provide feedback.

Next, online employment search engines need to provide useful information to the users. Job seekers appreciate tips such as featured jobs, training opportunities and news articles related to both general and specific employment industries. Employers also appreciate tips regarding human resource management, recruiting and how to post employment advertisements that attract the most qualified job seekers.

Finally, top employment search engines should provide accurate and detailed data that is useful to job seekers in a variety of situations. For example, job seekers who have recently relocated or are considering relocation benefit from ratings like the ones appearing at Job listings for a particular city are helpful, especially when the total number of jobs available in a specific radius from the city center is listed. When a specific job category or industry is highlighted or searchable, employees have a much easier time selecting and applying to the most relevant open positions in their prospective fields.

The best employment search engines will go one step further and discuss featured employers in the area and list their current job openings or provide a link to their external websites. Another finishing touch that is especially helpful for job seekers who may be relocating is the overall job search difficulty index rating. This number is basically a grade for the proposed city and indicates on average the amount of difficulty a potential job seeker may face when trying to obtain employment in that location.

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About The Author
Joseph Shaheen
Editor-in-Chief of the Human Talent Network. Email me news, tips, and questions to [email protected] I blog at, write news and editorials all over the web. HTN is always looking for contributors and talented writers. Reach out to me using the contact form or start your application process right away at

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