State Watch

Unemployment hits record low in seven states

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Seven years after hitting the depths of the worst recession in modern history, the rebounding economy is sending unemployment rates to record lows in a handful of states across the nation.

California’s unemployment rate is down to 4.7 percent, the lowest rate since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began measuring state economic conditions in 1976. 

Colorado’s unemployment rate has hit a new low, at 2.3 percent. In Arkansas, the 3.4 percent rate is a record. The phenomenon is bipartisan, and bicoastal: Republican states like Mississippi (4.9 percent) and North Dakota (2.5 percent) notched new lows. So did the Democratic bastions of Oregon (3.6 percent) and Washington (4.5 percent). 

Nationally, the unemployment rate stands at 4.3 percent, down half a percentage point since January. 

In states, the rate ranges from highs of 6.7 percent in Alaska and 6.6 percent in New Mexico to Colorado’s low of 2.3 percent. 

{mosads}Twenty-two states have seen their unemployment rates fall significantly over the last year. In 13 states, the unemployment rate has fallen by more than a full percentage point, including in Wyoming and West Virginia, where the unemployment rates fell by a point and a half. 

The movement in Wyoming and West Virginia is significant, too, because it represents a reversal from rising unemployment rates caused by low energy prices. Both states experienced higher unemployment rates as coal and oil prices tumbled, even while the rest of the country recovered. 

Other energy-rich states like North Dakota and Oklahoma have also seen rebounding employment figures in recent months.

Over the last month, nine states saw unemployment rates fall significantly, led by Tennessee, where the rate fell from 4.7 percent to 4 percent. The unemployment rate rose in three states — Alaska, Maine and Massachusetts.

Utah has added 46,600 jobs in the past year, a jump of 3.3 percent. Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Washington all saw payrolls grow by more than 2 percentage points. Texas added more jobs than any other state, 266,600, trailed closely by California at 242,600.

The new record lows come after many states hit record-high unemployment rates during the recession. California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon and Rhode Island all experienced their highest-ever unemployment rates in 2009 or 2010, according to the BLS. 

The highest state unemployment rate ever measured by BLS came in West Virginia, in February 1983, when 18.8 percent of the workforce was out of work. The lowest rate came in November 2000, when Virginia’s unemployment rate his just 2.1 percent.

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