Economy Watch: State Unemployment Rates Stuck in Neutral

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that state and regional unemployment rates didn’t budge much in June.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Friday that state and regional unemployment rates didn’t budge much in June: 27 states reported unemployment rate increases for the month, 11 states and DC saw unemployment drop, and 12 states experienced no change at all.

The largest raw increase in employment in June was in California, which added a net of 38,399 jobs, while the largest net decline was in Wisconsin, which shed 13,200 jobs. Alaska experienced the largest month-over-month percentage increase in employment, up 1 percent in June. The biggest losers in terms of percentage were New Mexico, Vermont and Wisconsin, each dropping 0.5 percent in employment.

Nevada remains the state with the highest official unemployment rate, 11.6 percent, an unwanted distinction that the state has had for quite a while. Rhode Island and California are almost as bad in that regard, with 10.9 percent and 10.7 percent unemployment rates, respectively. Buoyed by a regional energy boom, North Dakota continues to have the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 2.9 percent in June, says the BLS.

Total driving sees uptick

The U.S. Department of Transportation reported on Friday that total travel on all U.S. roads and streets was up 2.3 percent in May 2012 compared with the same month of 2011, or about 5.7 billion miles. The increase follows a few months when the totals were down, year-over-year, probably due to the increasing price of gas in the spring.

The number of miles driven on U.S. roads—a rough measure of economic activity—still remains below the most recent peak in 2007. Though the Great Recession and its sluggish aftermath have probably been the main factors contributing to the stagnation of mileage growth, other factors are probably at work as well. One is the rollercoaster-like movements of the price of gas, but it’s also true that the U.S. population is aging and, on the whole, older people drive less than younger ones.

According to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report, the price of gas hasn’t been as much of a restraining factor in American driving habits lately, with prices static in recent weeks. As of Sunday, the U.S. average for a gallon of regular was $3.467, roughly the same as the $3.454 average of a month ago, but lower than the average this time last summer, which was $3.695.

Spanish banks to receive multi-billion euro bailout

On Friday, euro-zone finance ministers reportedly signed off formally on the bailout (without using that term) of Spanish banks. The deal will infuse the sickly Spanish banking sector, which was dragged down mightily by Spain’s own housing bubble, with 100 billion euros ($123 billion) worth of financial assistance.

That isn’t going to prevent a continued recession of the Spanish economy, however. The Spanish government also said on Friday that the country is expected to remain in recession for the next year at least, as austerity measures continue. Moreover, investors aren’t impressed by Spain’s prospects, since 10-year Spanish debt continues to hover over a yield of 7 percent, which is a record (and unsustainable) high.

Wall Street felt nervous on Friday, giving back much of the gains earlier in the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 120.79 points, or 0.93 percent, while the S&P 500 was down 1.01 percent and the Nasdaq declined 1.37 percent.

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