Economists claim “full employment” is a jobless rate of a 5% or less. The national figure for May was 4.3%, so the labor market is deemed as being extremely healthy. However, economic health is much more local than national. One proof of this is that unemployment is above 5% in several states — at or above 6% in three.
The District of Columbia saw its unemployment in May at 6.0%, while it was at 6.6% in New Mexico and 6.7% in Alaska. The rate in Louisiana was 5.7%, in Arizona at 5.1% and in Pennsylvania 5.0%.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics points out in its State Unemployment and Employment Summary for May:
Colorado had the lowest unemployment rate in May, 2.3 percent, followed by North Dakota, 2.5 percent. The rates in Arkansas (3.4 percent), Mississippi (4.9 percent), Oregon (3.6 percent), and Washington (4.5 percent) set new series lows. (All state series begin in 1976.) Alaska and New Mexico had the highest jobless rates, 6.7 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively. In total, 17 states had unemployment rates lower than the U.S. figure of 4.3 percent, 8 states and the District of Columbia had higher rates, and 25 states had rates that were not appreciably different from that of the nation.
These numbers taken together show that the recovery is uneven, so parts of the country continue to suffer the after-effects of the Great Recession, which drove national unemployment to 10.2% for October 2009. The May national unemployment rate of 4.3% is far away for several states, and they may not get there at all in the foreseeable future. It is hard to find a catalyst that would move a state’s level from 6% to well below the level of “full employment.”