The States That Recovered Most (and Least) from the Recession

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41. Maine
> Unemployment decline from recession peak: 1.0 percentage points (tied-41st highest)
> Peak unemployment: 8.4%
> Current unemployment: 7.4% (24th highest)
> GDP growth 2011: -0.4% (5th lowest)

Going into the recession, there were approximately 34,000 unemployed people looking for work in Maine. By February 2010, that number had risen to nearly 59,000. As of October of this year, that number had only fallen by 10% to roughly 53,000. GDP growth has been extremely slow, and Maine was one of only seven states whose economies contracted in 2011. Maine economist Charles Colgan believes the state’s economy will not recover to pre-recession employment levels until 2017. “Under the best of circumstances, 2012 won’t be a rip-roaring year because [pessimistic] forces are simply too deep and entrenched for a quick turnaround,” Colgan told the AP.

42. Montana
> Unemployment decline from recession peak: 1.0 percentage points (tied-41st highest)
> Peak unemployment: 7.0%
> Current unemployment: 6.0% (14th lowest)
> GDP growth 2011: 0% (7th lowest)

After reaching a peak in September 2010, Montana’s unemployment rate fell just 1 percentage point, from 7% to 6% in October, 2012. This was one of the smallest decreases in the U.S. However, in that time, the state has added nearly 14,000 jobs to one of the nation’s smallest labor forces. Also suggesting a recovery, Fiserv projects Montana’s home prices will rise by an average rate of 4.6% a year between the second quarter of 2012 and the second quarter of 2017 — one of the highest rates in the nation. Unlike several other states in which home prices are expected to rise significantly, Montana was not among the hardest hit by the recession. Over the five years ending in the second quarter of 2012, home prices fell just 6.8% in Montana versus 27.6% nationwide.

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43. New Hampshire
> Unemployment decline from recession peak: 1.0 percentage points (tied-41st highest)
> Peak unemployment: 6.7%
> Current unemployment: 5.7% (tied-10th lowest)
> GDP growth 2011: 1.5% (19th highest)

Compared to many state economies, New Hampshire was barely touched by the recession. Unemployment peaked at just 6.7% and remains among the lowest in the country. However, while the state lost relatively few jobs, it has failed to recover any substantial proportion of those jobs. The number of unemployed people in the state grew from roughly 25,000 in November 2007 to nearly 50,000 in the last few months of 2009. That number has only fallen by a few thousand in the past two years. As reported in the Nashua Telegraph, economist Dennis Delay notes that while New Hampshire has often performed better than other states, this time it has been beaten by other New England states. “While the assessment of New Hampshire’s current employment picture may improve with next year’s revisions to the current jobs data, the weak performance of the state economy is still a serious concern,” he said.

44. West Virginia
> Unemployment decline from recession peak: 1.0 percentage points (tied-41st highest)
> Peak unemployment: 8.5%
> Current unemployment: 7.5% (23rd highest)
> GDP growth 2011: 4.5% (3rd highest)

Even after West Virginia’s economy grew by 4.5% in 2011, more than nearly any other state, it  continues to struggle. Although the state was the second-largest producer of coal in the nation last year, the industry has been hit hard by a collapse in prices, which hurt many West Virginia miners. Over the 12 months ending in October, employment in the state’s mining and logging sector fell by 14.8% as several companies have recently shut or announced plans to shut coal mines. Additionally, manufacturing employment declined by more than 5%.

45. Arkansas
> Unemployment decline from recession peak: 1.0 percentage points (tied-41st highest)
> Peak unemployment: 8.2%
> Current unemployment: 7.2% (25th highest)
> GDP growth 2011: 0.3% (12th lowest)

Arkansas’ unemployment rate peaked in July 2011 at 8.2%. As of October, the state’s unemployment rate had declined by just 1 percentage point from its peak. And the bad news for the workers who retained their jobs, as of October, the state had the nation’s lowest average weekly earnings at just $656. Last year, the state also had one of the nation’s highest poverty rates in the country at 19.5%. Since 2007, Arkansas has seen only one year of real GDP growth in excess of 1%, lagging well behind the U.S. economy as a whole.

46. South Dakota
> Unemployment decline from recession peak: 0.8 percentage points
> Peak unemployment: 5.3%
> Current unemployment: 4.5% (3rd lowest)
> GDP growth 2011: 0.8% (20th highest)

South Dakota’s unemployment rate reached 5.3% during the recession, one of the lowest peak unemployment rates of all states. Since first reaching this high in May 2009, the unemployment rate has fallen just 0.8 percentage points. But the state’s job market remains very strong. The October unemployment rate was among the lowest in the U.S., while average weekly earnings were up by more than 30% from November 2007, a larger increase than any state except neighboring North Dakota. Despite this, earnings in South Dakota were among the lowest in the country with the average worker making just $690 per week. To compare, the average weekly earnings in North Dakota exceeded $800. GDP growth was also limited. The state’s economy grew 0.2% in 2010, the third worst in the nation, and last year it grew just 0.8% compared to the 1.5% growth rate for the nation.

47. Pennsylvania
> Unemployment decline from recession peak: 0.6 percentage points
> Peak unemployment: 8.7%
> Current unemployment: 8.1% (tied-18th highest)
> GDP growth 2011: 1.2% (22nd highest)

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate did not rise as much as it did in other states during the recession. Its peak rate of 8.7% in January and February of 2010 was 4.1 percentage points higher than its November 2007 level, a smaller increase than two-thirds of states. However, unlike most of the states with smaller increases in unemployment, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate remains well above the national figure. The number of unemployed people in the state nearly doubled during the recession to a peak of more than 555,000 jobless people. As of October of this year, that number had only declined by 27,000. The good news is that while the state as a whole is far from recovering, the Brookings Institution found that Pittsburgh was just one of three U.S. metropolitan areas to have gotten back up to pre-recession employment levels. The reason is due to the region’s strong oil and gas industry, Brookings reports.

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48. Connecticut
> Unemployment decline from recession peak: 0.4 percentage points (tied-48th highest)
> Peak unemployment: 9.4%
> Current unemployment: 9.0% (7th highest)
> GDP growth 2011: 2.0% (9th highest)

Connecticut’s unemployment rate reached a high of 9.4% in August 2010. Unemployment then started to fall but in mid-2012 began rising again, eventually reaching 9% in October. The labor force lost more than 30,000 employees over the 12 months ending in October. Total employment as of October was lower than at any point during the height of the recession. Fairfield County, home to many financial sector employees, has been impacted by Wall Street layoffs, which have also pushed down home prices. As of October, Waterbury, another area in Connecticut, had an unemployment rate of 11.1% — one of the highest in the nation.

49. New York
> Unemployment decline from recession peak: 0.4 percentage points (tied-48th highest)
> Peak unemployment: 9.1%
> Current unemployment: 8.7% (tied-10th highest)
> GDP growth 2011: 1.1% (24th lowest)

Through October, New York had yet to have a major jobs recovery. The state’s unemployment rate hit a recent high in July 2012 of 9.1% — higher than at any point during the recession. From November, 2007 through October, 2012, the number of jobs in New York fell by over 4%, one of the larger declines in the U.S. Among the sectors in New York that lost the most jobs during the recession was financial activities with many of the industry’s largest firms cutting payrolls this year. Several other sectors, including construction and manufacturing, have consistently lost jobs over the past several years. Unemployment in the New York City metro area has risen as well, from 4.2% in November 2007 to 8.7% in October 2012.

50. New Jersey
> Unemployment decline from recession peak: 0.2 percentage points
> Peak unemployment: 9.9%
> Current unemployment: 9.7% (4th highest)
> GDP growth 2011: -0.5% (4th lowest)

No state has struggled to recover from the recession as much as New Jersey. While most other states’ unemployment rates peaked during the recession, New Jersey’s peaked in August 2012 at 9.9%. Though down slightly in October to 9.7%, the state’s workforce had an especially difficult year. Construction lost 7,500 jobs during the 12 months ending in October — equal to a 5.8% decline in that sector — despite an ongoing $2.5 billion construction project on the New Jersey Turnpike. The Laborers International Union of North America recently endorsed Governor Chris Christie’s re-election campaign due to his support of numerous large-scale construction projects.

-By Michael B. Sauter and Alexander E. M. Hess

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