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Economy in Brief

State Labor Markets in February
by Charles Steindel  March 22, 2019

State payrolls were little-changed in February. Only two states (Florida and Idaho) reported statistically significant moves from January; both were increases. Across the other 49 jurisdictions (including DC) there were comparable numbers reporting small increases and declines. Over the 12 months ending in February growth was fairly uninform across the nation, with Nevada being the only state with job growth above 3 percent—only 22 states were reported to have had statistically significant job growth over that interval. Growth did tend to be higher in the West, with, as usual, Alaska being an exception (the 12-month gain of .5 percent in Alaska—identical to Hawaii's-- though not deemed to be statistically significant, was higher that has been seen for a while)

Unemployment rates remain fairly uniform throughout the nation. As has been the case for some time, Alaska was the great outlier, again at 6.5 percent. Every other state, and DC, had unemployment rates between 2.4 and 5.5 percent (the latter was the rate in DC).

The numbers for Puerto Rico show a continued sluggish port-hurricane recovery. February's job count on the island was 47,300 higher (more than 5 percent) than the low point of October 2017. Still, the number of jobs in Puerto Rico in February was more than 1 percent lower than the levels reported prior to the storm. The overall softness hides a more noticeable rebound in the private sector. The initial count of 671,900 private sector jobs in February is the highest number since May 2015. Government employment in Puerto Rico continues to be on a marked downtrend, reflecting the Commonwealth's budget woes and, likely, declining population. This belt-tightening started long before Maria, and February's level of public sector jobs was more than one-third lower than the July 2004 peak. Most public sector jobs in Puerto Rico are at the level of the Commonwealth, and this is where the majority of the retrenchment has occurred, though local governments have also cut employment significantly. In the household survey data, Puerto Rico's labor force has continued to drift down. It is now about 25 percent lower than its 2008 peak, to a level about equal to that of 30 years ago. The unemployment rate was 8.5 percent in February—the 11th consecutive month it has been below 10 percent. These are the only months on record with single-digit unemployment in Puerto Rico.

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