Economy Watch: Most State Employment Rates Stagnant

Unemployment rates in most states didn't move year-over-year in May, further signaling a slow recovery for the U.S. economy.

More evidence that the U.S. economy isn’t quite in the recovery mode of recent years (although it’s not precisely on a downward spiral): the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the unemployment rates in most states didn’t move year-over-year in May. All together, 16 states and D.C. enjoyed notable unemployment rate decreases from a year earlier, two states suffered increases, while 32 states saw no significant change.

South Dakota and New Hampshire had the lowest jobless rates among the states in May, at 2.5 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively. The rate in Arkansas (3.8 percent) set a new low (the BLS started tracking region, division and state unemployment rates beginning in 1976.) Alaska had the highest state unemployment rate at 6.7 percent.

Employment recovery since the worst of the recession hasn’t been even among the states, at least as measured by state unemployment rates. The largest drop since the highs of the recession has been in Michigan, the BLS reports. The recession max unemployment rate in that state was nearly 15 percent; now it’s below 5 percent. Other strong recoveries have been in Nevada, Tennessee and Oregon.

A few fortunate states’ recessionary highs in unemployment weren’t that high. North Dakota’s was barely over 4 percent, while among large states with sizable real estate markets, Texas peaked at over 8 percent but is now just above 4 percent, while New York peaked at just over 9 percent, but is now below 5 percent. California—lately reported as the world’s sixth largest economy, about the size of France—has made a solid employment recovery, from over 12 percent unemployment during the worst of the recession, to just over 5 percent now.