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Economy in Brief

State Labor Markets in March
by Charles Steindel  April 17, 2020

The March state data provide first firm data on the regional impact of the pandemic. 31 states saw statistically significant drops in their job counts; Tennessee—a state that was quite late to impost shut-downs—was the only state to report an increase (not statistically significant). California lost 99,500 jobs; the counts in both Louisiana and Rhode Island both fell 1.1 percent. Louisiana and Rhode Island. Two large states that were slow to close—Florida and Texas—still saw .4 percent losses. Only a dozen states now report statistically significant job growth over the last 12 months, with Utah up 2.6 percent. But the negatives have started to accumulate, with Vermont down 2.4 percent and West Virginia dropping 1.7 percent (both these states had been soft to weak prior to the pandemic).State labor markets were generally sound in February, prior to the onset of the pandemic.

Household survey results were also dismal. Nevada—a state utterly dependent on travel and tourism—saw its unemployment rate soar 2.7 percentage points, from 3.6 percent to 6.3 percent. Louisiana, not doing well earlier, reports a 6.9 percent jobless rate. West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia also had unemployment rates of 6.0 percent or higher (Alaska, long the state with the highest unemployment rate, reported a drop from 5.8 to 5.6 percent). In the four largest states (California, Texas, New York, and Florida) noticeable drops in the labor force—at least 1 percent in each--dampened the rise in reported unemployment. Six states, though—scattered across the nation, from New Hampshire to Hawaii—continued to report unemployment rates under 3 percent. Astonishingly, New Jersey—one of the very hardest his states by the virus—reported an unchanged 3.8 percent rate, with increases in the labor force and resident employment (the Garden State’s job count, though, fell 31,800). A good sign of the disarray created by the virus is the omission of household survey data for Puerto Rico—it was just not possible to conduct anything like a normal survey on the island.

As many noted, the March survey period for the labor market reports came before the full force of the pandemic hit; the incredible rise in new claims for unemployment insurance started later in the month. Still, it’s obvious that the national impact is being felt coast to coast.

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