WASHINGTON (AP) – Unemployment rates rose in all of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas for the third straight month in March, with Indiana’s Elkhart-Goshen once again logging the biggest gain.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday all 372 metropolitan areas tracked saw jobless rates move higher last month from a year earlier. Elkhart-Goshen’s rate soared to 18.8 percent, a 13 percentage-point increase. That was the fourth-highest jobless rate in the country.

The Indiana region has been hammered by layoffs in the recreational vehicle industry. RV makers Monaco Coach Corp. Keystone RV Co. and Pilgrim International have sliced hundreds of jobs.

The jobless rate jumped to 17 percent in Bend, Ore., a 9.2 percentage-point rise and the second-biggest monthly gainer. Bend for years has been the center of the central Oregon real estate and construction boom, largely fueled by retirees from California. Many of them bought vacation or retirement homes in high-end rural developments called destination resorts, which the state began allowing in 1984 as an exception to land use laws that otherwise aim to preserve rural land from development.

The credit crunch and falling home prices have made it harder for retirees to cash out of their existing homes. Part of the area also features easy access to skiing, mountain biking, hunting, fishing and golf. But as unemployment rises, state analysts have cited weakness in the service and entertainment sectors.

Roger Lee, executive director of the nonprofit Economic Development for Central Oregon, said losses in construction jobs have battered the area, with the impact rippling through retail and service sectors. The region’s unemployment rate also has been affected by a growth in the labor force.

State officials believe that is due to spouses going back into the job market to keep households afloat and retirees returning to work to supplement damaged retirement savings accounts.

Rounding out the top three was North Carolina’s Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, which saw its unemployment rate rise to 15.4 percent last month, an increase of 9.1 percentage points. That region has been especially hard hit by heavy layoffs in manufacturing amid a recession that is nearing a record as the longest in the post World War II period.

El Centro, Calif., continued to claim the highest unemployment rate – 25.1 percent. The jobless rate there is notoriously high because there are so many unemployed seasonal agriculture workers.

Following close behind were Merced, Calif., with a jobless rate of 20.4 percent, and Yuba City, Calif., at 19.5 percent.

The national unemployment rate soared to 8.5 percent, a quarter-century high, in March.

Companies have seen their sales and profits hurt by the recession. They have been laying off workers and taking other cost-cutting steps to survive the downturn, which began in December 2007.

Many economists believe employers will stay in cost-cutting mode even if the recession ends this year, as some hope. The nationwide unemployment rate could top 10 percent early next year before it starts to slowly drift downward. Companies won’t feel inclined to boost hiring until they are confident any economic recovery has staying power.

More layoffs were announced this week. Textron Inc. said it will expand layoffs, eliminating 8,300 jobs, or 20 percent, of its global work force as the recession weakens demand for corporate planes. The maker of Cessna planes, Bell helicopters and turf-maintenance equipment earlier this year said it would reduce its work force by 6,200 jobs, or 15 percent, mostly at Wichita, Kansas-based Cessna.

Elsewhere, General Motors Corp. laid out a massive restructuring plan that includes cutting 21,000 U.S. factory jobs by next year. Clear Channel Communications Inc., the largest owner of U.S. radio stations, said it’s cutting 590 jobs in its second round of mass layoffs this year. And bearings and specialty steels maker Timken Co. indicated it will cut about 4,000 more jobs by the end of this year after earlier suggesting about 3,000 jobs already had been targeted

In Wednesday’s metro unemployment report, the government said 18 regions registered jobless rates of at least 15 percent. Meanwhile, 15 regions had rates below 5 percent. They include: Ames, Iowa; Houma-Bayou-Cane-Thibodaux, La.; Iowa, City, Iowa; Manhattan, Kansas; and Lubbock, Texas.

Both Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, and Houma-Bayou-Cane-Thibodaux had the lowest unemployment rates at 3.6 percent each. The Louisiana region, with about 200,000 residents, is located on the coast and serves as a vital support area for the offshore petroleum industry in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of deepwater drilling in the Gulf, where projects take years to complete and bring to production, there has been little short-term effect from low energy prices.

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