The COVID-19 pandemic set off an economic crisis that pushed the unemployment rate to levels that rivaled the highs of the Great Depression. Fortunately, the recovery has been relatively rapid, and weekly initial unemployment claims in the United States have been below half a million since early May 2021. The last time they were below that threshold was in March 2020, when President Donald Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency.
Whether the result of a pandemic or not, unemployment is never desirable. However, in some states, conditions are more favorable for those who are out of work than in others. The current condition of the labor market; its recovery course since the pandemic hit; and the strength of the social safety net are all factors that vary from state to state.
Using data from the U.S. Department of Labor, 24/7 Wall St. created an index of four measures — unemployment benefit recipiency, average weekly unemployment payments as a share of average wages, one-year employment growth, and the April unemployment rate — to determine the best and worst states to be unemployed. States are ranked from best to worst.
To ease the financial hardship for the millions of Americans who found themselves out of work during the pandemic, the federal government improved unemployment benefits — expanding eligibility and increasing payments. As the economy recovers, some parts of the country have revoked those extended benefits. It is important to note that the average weekly unemployment benefit payouts by state used in this story does not include the supplemental federal payments added during the pandemic. Here is a look at the 39 states where people gave up looking for work during the pandemic.
The expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits during the pandemic raised recipiency rates in every state year over year. Also perhaps due to eligibility expansion, in a handful of states, the average number of people who received unemployment insurance benefits in 2020 even exceeded the average number of people who were unemployed over the course of the year. Here is a look at the American cities that added jobs during the pandemic.