College and university students in the class of 2020 faced the worst -- and most uncertain -- job market the U.S. had seen in generations. Economic fallout in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak pushed unemployment to 13.3% in May of 2020 as millions of college students graduated and joined the labor force. Only a month earlier, the U.S. jobless was 14.8%, the highest point since the Great Depression.

With the average annual cost of a college education ranging from about $26,000 at a four-year public school to $54,000 at a private one, many students take on debt to afford college. Total student debt topped $1.7 trillion in 2020. Considering the financial challenges, it is as important as ever that college graduates secure jobs that require the skills they obtained as undergraduates, and that pay a salary that justifies the investment in their education.

Though the job market has improved significantly since the early months of the pandemic on a national scale, in some major U.S. cities, recent college graduates still face considerable hurdles.

Yuma, Arizona, ranks among the worst metro areas in the country for recent college graduates to find a job, largely due to its weak job market. Unemployment in Yuma was 13.7% in October 2021, nearly the highest of any U.S. metro area and nearly triple the national jobless rate of 4.6%.

For college graduates who are able to find a job in the Yuma metro area, the financial advantage their degree gives them is not as great as it is in other parts of the country. The typical college-educated worker in the metro area earns just $41,595 a year -- only $13,644 more than what the typical area worker with a high school diploma earns. Meanwhile, nationwide, the typical college educated worker earns nearly $55,000 annually, about $24,000 more than what the typical worker with a high school diploma earns.

The worst cities for recent graduates to find a job were identified using an index of six key measures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau: (1) average monthly earnings for 22-24-year-olds in Q1 2021, (2) change in employment of 22-24-year-olds from Q1 2020 to Q1 2021, (3) the share of 22-24-year-olds employed in professions that typically require a college education, (4) the October 2021 unemployment rate, (5) the ratio of median earnings for adults with a bachelor's degree to the median earnings for adults of all education levels, and (6) the poverty rate among college educated adults. Only metro areas where 35% or less of the population 3 years and over are enrolled in college or graduate school were considered in our analysis.


RankMetro areaEmployment in sectors that typically require a 4-yr. degree (%)Avg. monthly earnings of 22-24 year-olds ($)Poverty rate among adults with a bachelor's degree (%)
1El Centro, CA7.11,82813.7
2Yuma, AZ10.51,99412.3
3Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI5.12,2618.6
4Hattiesburg, MS7.91,52016.1
5Santa Fe, NM12.42,03312.0
6Farmington, NM9.61,83813.4
7Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, MS8.91,69913.1
8Beckley, WV8.21,93614.5
9Fayetteville, NC10.41,77613.0
10Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA8.31,76712.4
11Flint, MI9.51,94613.1
12Kingston, NY11.51,99811.4
13East Stroudsburg, PA5.61,8948.8
14Grants Pass, OR7.12,04315.5
15Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH11.11,95210.8
16Erie, PA11.21,86911.0
17Lake Charles, LA8.52,38010.9
18Pine Bluff, AR11.31,76013.7
19Albany, GA10.31,71215.4
20Muskegon, MI6.01,98611.2
21Valdosta, GA11.11,67615.1
22New Orleans-Metairie, LA12.12,02812.6
23Pocatello, ID10.31,79412.3
24Brownsville-Harlingen, TX10.31,61715.7
25Houma-Thibodaux, LA9.32,15913.0
26Shreveport-Bossier City, LA10.51,82613.8
27Saginaw, MI9.31,99512.7
28Sumter, SC7.21,91813.8
29Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL12.12,01910.1
30Battle Creek, MI10.32,26812.0