Special Report

Hardest States to Find Full-Time Work

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35. Maine
> Underemployment rate: 7.2%
> May unemployment: 2.8% (9th lowest)
> 5-yr. employment growth: +4.3% (23rd lowest)
> Average annual wage: $43,906 (8th lowest)

By several measures, Maine’s job market is improving faster than that of any other New England state. For example, total employment in Maine climbed by 2.8% last year, more than in any other state in the region. At the same time, Maine’s labor force expanded by 2.3% — also the fastest of any New England state. The industries contributing most to economic growth in Maine last year were health care and social assistance, retail trade, and finance and insurance.

Currently, 7.2% of Maine’s labor force are underemployed to some degree, below the 8.3% share of workers nationwide, and it ranks among the top half of New England states.

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34. Massachusetts
> Underemployment rate: 7.4%
> May unemployment: 3.5% (18th lowest)
> 5-yr. employment growth: +8.2% (18th highest)
> Average annual wage: $69,942 (2nd highest)

Some 42.7% of adults in Massachusetts have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the largest share of any state and well above the 31.3% of adults nationwide. With the best educated labor force in the country, Massachusetts is an attractive place for employers. Due to a range of factors — not the least of which were lucrative tax incentives — industrial conglomerate General Electric moved its headquarters from Fairfield, Connecticut, to Boston in 2016 in a highly publicized shift.

Total employment grew by 8.2% in Massachusetts in the last five years, faster than most states and the 7.6% U.S. employment growth. Currently, 7.4% of workers in the state are underemployed to some degree, a smaller share than the 8.3% of workers nationwide.

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33. Arkansas (tied)
> Underemployment rate: 7.5%
> May unemployment: 3.8% (22nd lowest)
> 5-yr. employment growth: +3.1% (14th lowest)
> Average annual wage: $42,955 (5th lowest)

After declining every year since 2012, Arkansas’s underemployment rate climbed slightly in the year ending with the first quarter of 2018. Underemployment in Arkansas fell from 14.2% in 2012 to 7.2% in 2017 and now stands at 7.5%, still below the U.S. rate of 8.3%.

Economic growth has been relatively slow in the state in recent years. Total employment climbed by just 3.1% in the last five years, less than half the U.S. employment growth of 7.3% over that time. Additionally, Arkansas’s economy grew by just 1.1% last year compared to the 2.1% U.S. GDP growth. Resource extraction and government sectors were a drag on overall economic growth in the state.

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32. Oklahoma (tied)
> Underemployment rate: 7.5%
> May unemployment: 4.0% (24th highest)
> 5-yr. employment growth: +2.8% (9th lowest)
> Average annual wage: $45,124 (13th lowest)

Historically, underemployment has been less of a problem in Oklahoma than in most states. Based on annual rates from the second quarter through the first quarter of the following year, post-recession underemployment peaked in the United States at 16.7% in 2010. It peaked in Oklahoma at a much lower 11.1% rate the same year. Since then, underemployment improved considerably nationwide, and today Oklahoma’s 7.5% underemployment rate remains below the 8.3% national rate. The gap, however, has closed considerably.

The lower underemployment in Oklahoma is partially the result of low labor force participation. Just 58.2% of Oklahoma’s working-age population either work or actively look for work, a smaller share than in most states and the 60.1% U.S. labor force participation rate.

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31. South Carolina (tied)
> Underemployment rate: 7.6%
> May unemployment: 4.0% (24th highest)
> 5-yr. employment growth: +11.8% (7th highest)
> Average annual wage: $44,238 (9th lowest)

Economic growth has been strong in South Carolina in recent years. Over the last half decade, employment in the state expanded by 11.8%, more than all but half a dozen other states and well above the national employment growth of 7.6% over that time. Rapid job creation has helped improve unemployment and underemployment. South Carolina’s underemployment rate was among the highest in the nation at 19.7% a recently as 2010, and higher than the national underemployment rate of 16.7% that year. Since that post-recession peak, underemployment has fallen considerably in the state, now standing at 7.6% — lower than the national underemployment rate of 8.3%.