Special Report

States Recovering the Fastest From High Unemployment

In May 2020, the U.S. was digging out from its COVID-19 recession, the country’s shortest economic contraction on record. Thanks to lockdown and other public health measures aimed at combating the coronavirus spread, the national unemployment rate struck an all-time high of 14.7% a month earlier, and it remained above 10% for most of that summer.

Since then, the unemployment rate has edged back down to a near-record low of 3.6% in May, an 11.1 points decline in the country’s joblessness compared to May 2020, and a 2.2 points drop since May of last year.

To identify the states where unemployment has improved the most, 24/7 Wall St. created a weighted index of six measures of labor designed to capture change in unemployment from various points before the pandemic and during the pandemic through to today. States were ranked by how well they bounced back. 

The most recent, May, state jobless rate ranges from 2% in Minnesota to 5.1% in New Mexico. The one-year decline in the unemployed population ranges from 11.5% in Kentucky to 52.6% in Arizona, while the two-year decline in the number of unemployed people ranges from 41.5% in New Mexico to 85.6% in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire also experienced the biggest two-year decline in the unemployment rate from 15.4% to 2.1%. Four other states also saw the number of their unemployed population decline by more than 80% over the past two years.

These large reductions in the number of people who cannot find jobs reflect a national labor market that is returning to pre-pandemic levels – and more. The current high number of job openings, people who are quitting their jobs, and the relatively low unemployment rate suggest a tight labor market. (This is the state where the most people are quitting their jobs.)

At the same time, there are still millions of people unable to find work, either because of mismatched skills, mismatched offers and needs (part-time offered when full-time is needed, for example), or other issues. As another recession looms on the horizon, the labor market could drastically change as well. (These are careers with the best job security.)

Here are the states whose unemployment rates are bouncing back most

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