A Couple Different Views Of State Unemployment

The BLS is out with its monthly compilation of state by state employment data. It makes for interesting reading as well as highlighting the need to drill down in data to figure out what’s going on in any given region.

Probably the most over used statistic is the unemployment rate. We all know that it rose to 9.4% in July and on a macro basis that might be a useful measure but when you go to a state level, you see how deceiving the number can be.

Consider that Arizona has consistently had an unemployment rate lower than the national average. In June it was 8.7% when the national average was 9.5% and for July it jumped to 9.2%, still below the July national average. One might conclude that Arizona had been spared some of the hardship for awhile and was just catching up. One would be wrong.

When you look at the number of jobs lost in a state on a percentage basis you get a decidedly different picture. In fact, Arizona comes in dead last. Take a look at this chart from the WSJ Real Time Economics blog:

State July 2008 Employment July 2009 Employment Percent Change Over 12 Months
Alabama 2,000,800 1,907,600 -4.7
Alaska 322,900 322,400 -0.2
Arizona 2,629,700 2,431,400 -7.5
Arkansas 1,206,000 1,178,200 -2.3
California 15,009,800 14,249,600 -5.1
Colorado 2,356,500 2,254,500 -4.3
Connecticut 1,700,400 1,633,400 -3.9
Delaware 434,300 411,100 -5.3
District of Columbia 710,000 716,200 0.9
Florida 7,755,900 7,354,800 -5.2
Georgia 4,107,700 3,901,800 -5.0
Hawaii 618,200 600,700 -2.8
Idaho 651,500 617,400 -5.2
Illinois 5,956,300 5,669,800 -4.8
Indiana 2,956,200 2,805,900 -5.1
Iowa 1,525,100 1,478,000 -3.1
Kansas 1,391,400 1,341,100 -3.6
Kentucky 1,858,500 1,775,000 -4.5
Louisiana 1,941,100 1,924,500 -0.9
Maine 617,700 596,700 -3.4
Maryland 2,602,000 2,551,700 -1.9
Massachusetts 3,293,700 3,184,300 -3.3
Michigan 4,160,200 3,879,400 -6.7
Minnesota 2,763,900 2,657,000 -3.9
Mississippi 1,144,300 1,118,000 -2.3
Missouri 2,793,200 2,717,000 -2.7
Montana 446,900 438,900/td> -1.8
Nebraska 963,900 949,800 -1.5
Nevada 1,269,100 1,187,300 -6.4
New Hampshire 645,700 630,100 -2.4
New Jersey 4,058,300 3,936,100 -3.0
New Mexico 847,100 817,600 -3.5
New York 8,836,800 8,644,600 -2.2
North Carolina 4,133,600 3,911,700 -5.4
North Dakota 367,700 371,500 1.0
Ohio 5,377,600 5,122,900 -4.7
Oklahoma 1,597,900 1,564,200 -2.1
Oregon 1,728,900 1,630,300 -5.7
Pennsylvania 5,804,000 5,620,700 -3.2
Rhode Island 481,400 463,900 -3.6
South Carolina 1,929,500 1,852,400 -4.0
South Dakota 411,100 405,900 -1.3
Tennessee 2,776,300 2,664,900 -4.0
Texas 10,639,300 10,416,800 -2.1
Utah 1,254,300 1,201,600 -4.2
Vermont 306,600 294,500 -3.9
Virginia 3,768,000 3,664,000 -2.8
Washington 2,971,500 2,859,400 -3.8
West Virginia 762,900 735,500 -3.6
Wisconsin 2,868,300 2,751,900 -4.1
Wyoming 298,800 289,000 -3.3

Now exactly why Arizona should look not so bad when viewed in one mode but awful when viewed from another is a matter of conjecture. There’s no disputing the fact that it lost the most jobs but why has its unemployment rate not appeared to be so bad?

I can think of two reasons. One a lot of workers packed up and got out of Dodge. This would impact the numerator and denominator of the unemployment rate equally which would tend to hold the rate level. Those were probably construction workers who lit out for areas like Texas that still had jobs. As the economy worsened over the year more job losses hit workers who had no place else to go and so the rate creeps up.

The other reason is that there are a lot of older workers and quite young workers in Arizona, many of whom have part time positions. Possibly, it just took time for the recession to catch up with them.

Any ideas as to what may have been going on are much appreciated. One thing is clear though, Arizona has one big hole to climb out of.

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