Commentary | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth

The toughest job markets in the country

Nationwide unemployment is 9.4%, but it is now in the double digits for some 14 states including California, Rhode Island, South Carolina, as well as Michigan, where new data show unemployment reached 14.1% in May, up from 12.9% in April.

On June 19, EPI spoke with experts from three of the states suffering higher-than-average unemployment — Michigan, Ohio, and Oregon — who shared what these staggering job losses had meant for their local economies. Michigan has lost one in every six of its jobs since 2000, and stresses that many more workers not officially counted as unemployed are only working part-time or have grown too discouraged to look for work.

The share of workers in Michigan identified as “part-time for economic reasons” has shot up from 9.4% in the year 2000 to 22.2% today. With the recession now in its 17th month and recent bankruptcies of Chrysler and GM accelerating the loss of jobs, the Michigan League for Human Services is concerned about the nearly 90,000 unemployed workers who will exhaust their unemployment benefits in the coming months.

Ohio’s unemployment rose to 10.8% in May from 10.2% in April, and like Michigan, says the auto industry is at the heart of its troubles. Data show the state has lost nearly a quarter of its auto and auto-parts jobs, and more losses are expected in the wake of the automaker bankruptcies. Construction and trucking industries have also been hard hit. More than 100,000 Ohioans are now receiving extended unemployment benefits.

Oregon’s unemployment rose from 11.8% in April to 12.4% in May, a level not seen since 1976. Although Oregon officials are hopeful that the job losses may be moderating, its longer-term concern is that unemployment will remain high for a long time. A recent state economic forecast predicts jobs in Oregon will remain scarce well into the next decade. This slow return of jobs expected in Oregon and other hard hit states underscores how many people are unlikely to see an improvement when the recession ends.

Read more about unemployment in some hard-hit states here.

For a table showing the latest unemployment data for all 50 states, click here.

See related work on Income and wages | Unemployment insurance | Jobs | Minimum wage | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth | Inequality and Poverty

See more work by Andrea Orr