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Jobs growth seen in U.S. cities in 2015; still lagging pre-recession

Visually impaired job seeker Ricardo Scarello (R) talks to representatives from the National Industries for the Blind at the fourth Annual Job Fair for Individuals with Visual Impairments in Cambridge, Massachusetts October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. cities will see strong job growth this year, but only about half will return to the employment peaks reached before the recession began more than seven years ago, according to an economic report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Wednesday.

According to the annual metropolitan jobs forecast, prepared by IHS Global Insight, all 363 metropolitan areas will see job growth in 2015, the first year for a blanket increase during the recovery from the 2007-09 recession. Moreover, almost all - or 317 metropolitan areas - expect to see job growth of at least 1 percent.

At the beginning of 2015, only 164 areas had returned to their pre-recession, peak employment levels, or 45 percent of metropolitan areas that frequently encompass at least one city and surrounding suburbs. That will tick higher, to 55 percent, IHS Global forecast.

Nationally, the unemployment rate reached 5.6 percent in December, the lowest in six years.

At their annual meeting in the U.S. capital, mayors expressed concerns that the types of jobs being created were entry-level and part-time, and that the level of pay was low.

"You see a lot of the municipalities with more than 50 percent of the households under $50,000. What was the outcome of this job growth?" said Richard O'Brien, the mayor of Riverbank, California, at a session on the forecast.

The forecast's author, James Diffley, said wages had fallen, with the total gap between the average salary of the jobs lost in the recession and the average salary of the jobs gained in the recovery at $93 million.

Recently, the National Association of Counties found unemployment declined in nearly all of the country's 3,069 counties in 2014, but not enough to hit the lows reached before the longest and deepest U.S. economic downturn since the Great Depression.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)