One-Stop Job Centers: Who gets them, who gets left out?

May 2018 - Nationwide, people looking for work can get free help at local American Job Centers, also known as One-Stop Centers. Comparing 10 years of unemployment data with these job center locations reveals that some smaller communities with chronically high unemployment rates are missing out on access.

AJCs are the central delivery points for federal workforce development programs. They can help people find new work after a layoff, train in new skills, or navigate the job search process. Between 2016 and 2017, the latest year for which county-level unemployment data are available, over 7.1 million individuals received career and training services through WIOA.

Operated by state and local representatives from government and business, AJCs are funded through the federal, bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). In 2017, over $11 billion dollars went towards funding employment and training programs through AJCs.

The national unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, and there are currently 6.6 million job openings nationwide.

You can explore AJC locations and historical labor force statistics in the maps below, followed by some highlighted snapshots.

Nationwide, AJCs tend to be located in higher-populated areas, which makes sense. Many high-population areas, like Los Angeles, have relatively lower unemployment rates but more unemployed individuals when compared to smaller counties with high unemployment rates. But this pattern in AJC distribution begs the question: what about job center access in those smaller communities with historically high unemployment rates?

The highlights below illustrate instances where AJC locations don't (or do) align with consistently high-unemployment counties. Most of these states have multiple counties that have had unemployment rates above 10 percent for most of the past decade, but without nearby AJC locations. Kentucky and Ohio, featured below, are examples where AJCs are accessible to high-unemployment counties. Other states - California, Michigan, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona - also had some of the country's highest-unemployment counties in 2017, which also had AJC locations nearby.


Alaska snapshots

Alaska 2017 unemployment rates and AJC locations.

Alaska had the most localities at or above 10 percent unemployment of any state in 2017. Several of these boroughs and census areas (not counties) have had unemployment consistently upwards of 10 percent for the past decade. Kusilvak Census Area, on the state's west coast, had the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. in 2017, at over 20 percent. The census area does not have an AJC of its own - the closest center is located in Bethel, about 100 miles away (without considering road access). Around 20 to 40 percent of households have a residential Internet connection in Kusilvak Census Area, which could limit access to AJC online resources.


Georgia snapshots

Georgia 2017 unemployment rates and AJC locations.

Georgia does not have AJCs in or around its three highest-unemployment counties: Clay County, Taylor County, and Wheeler County. Altogether, an estimated 19 thousand people lived in these areas last year. All three counties have had unemployment upwards of ten percent for most of the past decade, though rates have dropped in the past couple of years. Wheeler and Taylor counties are about a 40 minutes' drive from the nearest AJCs. It would take over an hour to travel from Clay County to the nearest centers in Columbus and Albany. About 400-600 in every 1,000 households have Internet accessibility here.

Ohio and Kentucky

Ohio snapshots

Kentucky snapshots

Kentucky's and Ohio's AJCs are well distributed and follow historic unemployment patterns.

Some states have AJC locations that match local unemployment patterns. Ohio has an AJC in each county, where unemployment rates range between 3 and 8.5 percent.

In Kentucky, AJCs are concentrated around historically higher unemployment rates in the eastern part of the state. Magoffin County averaged one of the nation's highest unemployment rates in 2017. Its annual unemployment rate has been above 10 percent for the past decade. The county has one AJC, and is surrounded by multiple AJCs in neighboring counties.


Mississippi snapshots

Mississippi average unemployment rate 2007-2017, and AJC locations.

Jefferson County had one of the 10 highest unemployment rates in the country in 2017, hovering between 13 and over 19 percent for the past decade. Last year, 308 people were unemployed here. The closest AJCs are over 50 minutes to the south in Adams County, and to the east in Lincoln County, where over twice as many people are looking for work. The population is 85 percent black, and the largest employment sectors are local government, health care services, and utilities. Between 40 and 60 percent of homes have residential Internet access.

South Dakota

South Dakota snapshot

South Dakota average unemployment rate 2007-2017, and AJC locations.

Last year, South Dakota had two counties with unemployment rates above 10 percent and little access to AJCs. Oglala Lakota County, part of Pine Ridge Reservation, and Dewey County, part of Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Reservations, have had unemployment rates upwards of 10 percent for most of the past ten years. The nearest AJCs are around 80 to 90 minutes away by car. Last year, "Native American Programs" received the smallest allocation of WIOA funds: 50 million dollars. About 80 percent of households have residential Internet access.

West Virginia

West Virginia snapshots

West Virginia average unemployment rate 2007-2017, and AJC locations.

West Virginia had several counties with the nation's top ten percent highest unemployment rates last year. Northeast of the state capital, Charleston, is a tri-county region with some of the highest unemployment rates in the state and no nearby AJCs. Calhoun, Roane, and Clay counties have had high unemployment rates for most of the past decade. Unemployment rates range from 8.5-10.5 percent in the area, where 968 people are unemployed. Residents are predominately white and employed in the office administration, sales, and transportation sectors.


Overall, AJCs follow population patterns - where more people live, more people tend to be looking for work. Some of the counties with the highest unemployment rates in the country have relatively fewer unemployed individuals than their lower-unemployment counterparts. But the fact remains that in these counties where unemployment has been consistently high, and a visit to the nearest AJC would mean a considerable trip. Residential Internet access in these communities varies, making access to online AJC resources easier for some.

The administration of AJCs is handled at the state and local level, by Workforce Development Boards. Boards are made up of members of local and state government and business sectors, and are appointed by the state governor or local elected officials.

There are over three thousand counties and county-equivalents (like Alaska's boroughs) in the United States. What does access to job training and workforce development look like in your community?

Banner photo credit: Sergio Zamudio on Unsplash