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Economy in Brief

State Labor Markets in August
by Charles Steindel  September 21, 2018

As has been the case for some months, August saw fairly widespread job gains by state, though only four of the gains (California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida) were viewed as statistically significant. 10 states, and DC, reported declines in employment; while none of these were said to be significant, job losses of around 5,000 in both Illinois and Pennsylvania would certainly appear to be noticeable, and the drop in Rhode Island was roughly .5 percent. Looking at changes in the job count over the last year, though, gives a more balanced view: the expansion does seem to have become more evenly distributed geographically. While it remains true that job growth in a number of Western states has been more rapid than elsewhere in the nation (Utah leads, with a 3.5 percent increase), 34 states have had gains between 1.1 and 3.0 percent. Texas is one of the high-side outsiders, and New York is on the low side, so the it’s arguable that the picture is not quite as balanced as the simple count of states would suggest; still the dispersion in job growth seems to have lessened. Alaska and Vermont remain the only states to show job loss of the last 12 months (the losses are not seen as statistically significant, though Alaska’s was nearly 1 percent, and Vermont’s was more than .5 percent).

The household survey numbers also show continuing signs of convergence. In the lower 48 states the range of unemployment rates was unchanged from July, but both the high and low states notched down a bit (West Virginia was again highest at 5.3 percent—down from July’s 5.4 percent—and Iowa was lowest at 2.6 percent, compared to 2.5 percent in July). Alaska continues to have the highest unemployment rate of all states, but August’s 6.7 percent represented another drop. Hawaii’s remarkable 2.1 percent was even lower than the 2.2 percent of July.

In what might be seen as a hopeful sign, Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate dropped from 9.1 percent in July to 8.8 percent in August. The island’s labor force did shrink modestly, but gains in resident employment also contributed to the decline. However, the number of nonfarm jobs edged down by 1,000, with a level about 3 percent under pre-Maria figures.

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