Unemployment Remains High In Several States

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Headline after headline trumpet the fact that U.S. unemployment hit a multi-decade low of 3.8% in May. Most states have matched, or are even below that number. However, in several states, the figure has not fallen close to that low as high joblessness continues to linger.

The unemployment rate in Alaska, at 7.2%, is near recession levels. The rate is 5.6% in the District of Columbia, although it is not a state. The figure is 5.1% in New Mexico, and 5.4% in West Virginia.

The figures have little to do with what people make in these states. The median household income in Alaska is over $73,000, more than $15,000 above the national average. At the other end of the spectrum, median household income in New Mexico is just above $45,000. Some economists would say the number is misleading as a measure of the ability of people to live middle class lives because the cost of living in the state is low. The median household income in West Virginia is $42,000. Only Arkansas and Mississippi are lower.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) gave an overall assessment of state unemployment in May:

Unemployment rates were lower in May in 14 states and stable in 36 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Elevenstates had jobless rate decreases from a year earlier and 39 states and the District had little or no change. The national unemployment rate edged down from April to 3.8 percent and was 0.5 percentage point lower than in May 2017.

Nonfarm payroll employment increased in 7 states in May 2018 and was essentially unchanged in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Over the year, 35 states added nonfarm payroll jobs and 15 states and the District were essentially unchanged.

Hawaii had the lowest unemployment rate in May, 2.0 percent. Alaska had the highest jobless rate, 7.2 percent. In total, 13 states had unemployment rates lower than the U.S. figure of 3.8 percent, 17 states and the District of Columbia had higher rates, and 20 states had rates that were not appreciably different from that of the nation.