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Economy in Brief

U.S. State Unemployment Rates Vary from 6.7% to 2.8%
by Tom Moeller  January 25, 2017

The increase in the overall unemployment rate to 4.7% during December reflects a range of state unemployment rates from a high of 6.7% in Alaska to a 2.8% low in both Massachusetts and South Dakota.

Alaska's jobless rate continued to top the chart at 6.7%. That was below October high of 6.9%, but up from 6.4% early in 2015. The level of unemployment eased 0.3% during the last twelve months versus a 1.4% decline in the labor force. Alabama also registered a high unemployment rate at 6.2%, up from its 5.4% September low. Unemployment has risen 1.5% y/y. Two large states at the high end of the scale were Illinois (5.7%) and Pennsylvania (5.6%). Employment in the Keystone state held steady y/y, while unemployment rose by nearly one quarter y/y.

At the bottom of the state unemployment tally were small states including South Dakota at 2.8%, even though it had just 0.7% y/y employment growth. The 2.8% unemployment rate in Massachusetts was the lowest since 2000, and reflected a a 42.0% y/y decline in unemployment. Maine's low 3.8% unemployment rate brought with it 3.2% jobs growth and a 3.3% y/y decline in unemployment.. Another large state with low unemployment was Minnesota at 3.9%, but employment declined 1.4% y/y. The labor force similarly fell 1.2% y/y. Finally, Virginia's low 4.1% jobless rate brought with it just 0.9% y/y growth in jobs, set against a 0.4% rise in unemployment.

Unemployment amongst other states similarly varied greatly. Unemployment in New Jersey at 4.7% reversed much of its recent increase. Unemployment dropped 2.2% y/y, but the labor force fell 0.5% y/y. In Texas, the jobless rate of 4.6%, reflected a 2.3% y/y rise in employment, but a 2.3% y/y increase in unemployment. On the bright side of the unemployment spectrum was Massachusetts. Its jobless rate of 2.8% was down from 8.8% in January 2010. As of December, unemployment declined 42.0% y/y while employment rose 3.3% y/y.

Within large cities, unemployment in and around Los Angeles of 5.0% was below the state's average of 5.2% due to 3.9% growth in employment versus the state's 2.8% y/y gain. New York City's unemployment rate fell to 5.2%, compared to 4.9% in the state, as the number of unemployed fell 0.4% y/y, but the labor force declined 1.4% y/y. Around Chicago, the jobless rate of 5.9% compared to Illinois' average of 5.7%, but employment grew just 0.5% y/y. Near Seattle, the 3.7% unemployment rate was below the state's average of 5.2% as employment grew 5.2% y/y, and the size of the labor force rose 3.9% y/y.

State unemployment figures are available in Haver's EMPLR database.

Dec Nov 2016 2015 2014 Labor Force

Total U.S. Unemployment Rate (%)

4.7% 4.6% 4.8 5.3 6.2 159.5 million

Ten States With Highest Jobless Rate

  Alaska 6.7 6.8 6.7 6.5 6.9 0.4
  Alabama 6.2 5.9 5.9 6.1 6.7 2.2
  Louisiana  6.1 6.2 6.2 6.2 6.3 2.1
  West Virginia 5.9 6.0 6.1 6.7 6.6 0.8
  Illinois 5.7 5.6 6.0 5.9 7.0 6.6
  Pennsylvania 5.6 5.7 5.4 5.0 5.8 6.5
  Mississippi 5.6 5.7 6.0 5.5 7.4 1.3
  Georgia 5.4 5.3 5.3 5.8 7.0 4.9
  Washington 5.2 5.3 5.6 5.7 6.1 3.7
  California 5.2 5.3 5.4 6.3 7.5 19.5
Ten States With Lowest Jobless Rate    
  Virginia 4.1 4.2 4.0 4.4 5.1 4.3
  Arkansas 3.9 4.0 4.0 5.2 6.0 1.3
  Minnesota 3.9 3.8 3.8 3.6 4.1 3.0
  Maine 3.8 4.0 3.8 4.4 5.6 0.7
  Iowa 3.6 3.8 3.9 3.6 4.1 1.7
  Nebraska 3.4 3.4 3.1 2.9 3.2 1.0
  Colorado 3.0 3.2 3.3 3.8 4.9 2.9
  Hawaii 2.9 3.0 3.2 3.6 4.4 0.7
  Massachusetts 2.8 2.9 3.9 4.9 5.7 3.6
  South Dakota 2.8 2.7 3.1 3.1 3.4 0.5
Jobless Rate In Other Selected Large States    
  Michigan 5.0 4.9 4.7 5.4 7.1 4.7
  North Carolina 5.0 4.9 5.1 5.7 6.2 4.8
  Ohio 4.9 4.9 4.9 4.8 5.7 5.7
  Florida 4.9 4.9 4.8 5.3 6.1 9.8
  New York 4.9 5.1 4.9 5.3 6.3 9.6
  Arizona  4.8 5.0 5.5 6.1 6.7 3.3
  New Jersey 4.7 5.0 4.9 5.6 6.7 4.6
  Texas 4.6 4.6 4.5 4.5 5.0 13.0
  Maryland 4.2 4.2 4.4 5.2 5.8 3.2
  Wisconsin 4.0 4.1 4.3 4.6 5.4 3.1
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