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Economy in Brief

State Labor Markets Mirror National Strength in May
by Charles Steindel  June 15, 2018

State data show continued brisk job growth in May. The sum of the seasonally adjusted gains in payroll employment across the states came to 269,300—quite comparable to the national increase of 223,000. However, most states did not report statistically significant increases in their job counts. Texas had the largest absolute gain (34,700) while West Virginia saw a 1.4 percent increase. Aside from Texas, other large states with significant gains were Ohio, North Carolina, and Michigan. Only 4 states reported (small and statistically insignificant) declines: Louisiana, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wyoming.

The headline household survey results were more impressive: 14 states reported statistically significant drops in their unemployment rates in May. 10 of these were east of the Mississippi; Arizona, Colorado, Montana, and South Dakota were the Western states with lower unemployment rates. But a closer examination shows that more than a dozen states (including California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New Jersey) showed declines in their labor force from April to May. Quite likely all those declines were not statistically significant (though New York, and New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all report having lower labor forces than a year ago), and this time of year, with schools letting out on erratic schedules, seasonal adjusting the labor force figures can be difficult. Still, as was the case for the national data, sluggish labor force growth appears to be making an important contribution to unemployment rate declines.

Over the past year job growth has been particularly strong in a broad band of states running northwest from Florida to Washington, with growth in many places 2.1% or higher. There seems to be a correlation with elevation: Utah, with a 3.4% gain, and Idaho, up 3.1%, led the nation. Alaska and North Dakota are the only states with fewer jobs this May than last year; continuing issues with the energy industries in those states is likely the explanation (rather than a correlation with temperature, though Montana and Minnesota were also on the low side). Alaska, at 7.2%, continues, by a wide margin, to have the highest unemployment rate of any state; Hawaii’s 2.0% is the lowest (perhaps there is something to the temperature story).

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