Special Report

Easiest (and Hardest) States to Find Full-Time Work

West Virginia Bridge
Source: Thinkstock

5. West Virginia
> Underemployment rate: 11.4%
> June unemployment rate: 6.0% (6th highest)
> Median wage: $30,240 (3rd lowest)
> Labor force growth: -0.5% (3rd largest decline)

Only 52.7% of West Virginia’s population participates in the labor force, the smallest share of any state in the country. High numbers of recent retirees can drive down labor force participation. In the case of West Virginia, however, discouraged workers dropping out of the labor force is a more likely factor. The state has one of the nation’s highest levels of jobless workers who have given up their search for employment.

The state’s relatively weak job market may be attributable to an over-reliance on the mining industry, which has been struggling across the nation. In West Virginia, 5.2% of the workforce is employed in the agriculture, forestry, and mining industry, more than double the corresponding national share. In the last year alone, that industry shed roughly 5,100 jobs in West Virginia, the largest employment decrease of any industry in the state.

Orange County, California
Source: Thinkstock

4. California
> Underemployment rate: 11.7%
> June unemployment rate: 5.4% (15th highest)
> Median wage: $39,830 (8th highest)
> Labor force growth: 0.8% (19th smallest growth)

At just over 19 million people, California’s labor force is by far the largest in the country. Many of those workers, however, are underserved by the job market. The state’s 5.4% unemployment rate is above the 4.9% national rate. Furthermore, a near nation-leading 4.9% of the state’s willing and able workers are forced to take part-time rather than full-time work.

Many in the state who are unable to find work may be underprepared for the job market. Only 82.1% of adults have graduated high school, the lowest high school attainment rate of any state in the country.

Oil infrastructure at Prudhoe Bay
Source: Thinkstock

3. Alaska
> Underemployment rate: 11.9%
> June unemployment rate: 6.7% (the highest)
> Median wage: $46,420 (the highest)
> Labor force growth: -1.2% (2nd largest decline)

Workers in Alaska earn some of the highest wages in the country. The typical wage of $46,420 is the highest of all states and considerably higher than the national average of $36,200. The state’s job market is not doing especially well, however. The unemployment rate in June was 6.7%, the highest in the country. Unlike other high underemployment states, however, the share of workers employed part-time for economic reasons is below-average. This is likely due to the state’s high reliance on the mining sector, which does not tend to offer as many part-time positions as other industries. While involuntary part-timers are not as common in the state, discouraged job-seekers are, which largely accounts for the state’s near nation-leading underemployment rate. Like a number of other states with high levels of discouraged workers and underemployment, Alaska’s mining, logging and construction industries lost more jobs than any other sector in the state.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
Source: Thinkstock

2. New Mexico
> Underemployment rate: 12.4%
> June unemployment rate: 6.2% (3rd highest)
> Median wage: $32,320 (12th lowest)
> Labor force growth: 0.6% (13th smallest growth)

Just 57.4% of New Mexico residents are in the labor force, the fifth lowest participation rate in the country. The state’s economy shows other signs of poor health and labor underutilization. Despite dropping over the the past year, New Mexico’s 6.2% unemployment rate is the third highest in the country. In addition, 4.5% of workers have involuntary part-time rather than full-time jobs and 0.6% are discouraged from seeking a job altogether, making New Mexico one of the hardest places to find full-time work nationwide.

Workers in the arts, entertainment, accommodation, and food services sector are less likely to find full-time work than those in other industries. A relatively large 11.6% of all New Mexico workers are employed in the arts, entertainment, accommodation, and food services sector, which may be one reason for the large share of involuntary part-time workers in the state.

Casinos on the strip at night in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Source: Thinkstock

1. Nevada
> Underemployment rate: 13.1%
> June unemployment rate: 6.4% (2nd highest)
> Median wage: $33,700 (21st lowest)
> Labor force growth: 0.9% (22nd smallest growth)

Nevada is the worst state for people seeking full-time, gainful employment. The state was among the hardest hit by the housing crisis, and the slow recovery partially accounts for the struggling job market. The dominance of hospitality and service-related jobs also helps explain the high level of underemployment in the state. More than 26% of Nevadan workers are employed in the arts, entertainment, accommodation and food services sector, the highest percentage of any state. For workers in these industries, part-time employment is much more common. The share of all workers, as well as involuntary part-time employees, is highest in Nevada.