Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

Tepid Job Growth in Nearly Every State Should Not Be the ‘New Normal’

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The February state employment and unemployment report released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a familiar story for most states: sluggish or nonexistent job growth and unemployment rates falling slightly, but too often for the wrong reasons.

From November 2013 to February 2014, 31 states gained jobs with North Dakota (+1.2 percent), Nevada (+1.1 percent), and Texas (+0.9 percent) having the largest percentage increases. Over the same period, 18 states plus the District of Columbia lost jobs. Alaska (-0.9 percent), Kentucky (-0.6 percent), and Mississippi (-0.6 percent) experienced the largest losses.

During the same period, unemployment rates declined in 44 states with the largest decreases occurring in South Carolina (-1.1 percentage points), Louisiana (-1.1 percentage points), Tennessee (-1.0 percentage points), Michigan (-0.8 percentage points), and Indiana (-0.8 percentage points). Yet over this same timeframe, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Michigan all experienced employment losses—meaning any improvement in their unemployment rates was driven by job seekers giving up looking for work, rather than finding new jobs. In fact, of the 43 states (plus the District of Columbia) with lower unemployment rates, only 29 added jobs; the other 14 (plus DC) saw their workforces shrink.

The current pace of employment growth is leaving too many Americans jobless for far too long. Lawmakers should prioritize job growth and provide relief for the millions of people who are unable to find work through no fault of their own. Restoring emergency unemployment compensation for the long-term unemployed—expired since December—would help on both these fronts. Moreover, enacting a budget plan like the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ “Better Off Budget” would put the appropriate emphasis on public investment, which would spur job creation now and strengthen overall growth in the future.

See more work by David Cooper