But New Unemployment Numbers Don’t Tell The Whole Story
By Angelo Young
International Business Times, 12/19/14 — Forty-one U.S. states employed more people in November than in the previous month, the U.S. Department of Labor said Friday. But because these state figures don’t count people who are underemployed or who have given up looking for work, they don’t reflect a true snapshot of labor conditions.
The unemployment rate increased in three states last month vs. October — Connecticut, Louisiana and Washington — while the rate remained unchanged in six states. Compared with November of last year, 43 states and the District of Columbia have pulled down their jobless rates while Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana and West Virginia saw increases.
The figures are based on the so-called U-3 jobless measure, also known as the official unemployment rate. This measure ignores the so-called labor force participation rate, or people who have been jobless for so long they’ve given up finding work and aren’t even considered unemployed. In November 62.8 percent of working-age Americans were in the labor force. In September that rate was 62.7, the lowest level since February 1978.
“When the economy is doing well, more people typically enter the labor market because there are more jobs available,” said economists Michael Madowitz and Jackie Odum of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning public policy think tank, in an article earlier this month. “So we should expect the labor force participation rate to be increasing in the aftermath of the recession. It hasn’t been.”
Even if wage growth is stagnant and the quality of jobs is worse for most Americans than they were before the last recession, the state jobless data do offer a snapshot of short-term changes in the official jobless numbers. And overall, the labor situation is better than it was last year.
North Carolina, home to one of the largest banking centers in the country, had the biggest drop, from 6.3 percent in October to 5.8 percent last month. Unemployment also declined significantly in Arkansas, Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Ohio and Missouri. North Dakota’s fracking boom continues to give it the lowest jobless figures of any state, at 2.7 percent.
Mississippi had the highest state jobless rate at 7.3 percent in November after Georgia pulled its rate down to 7.2 percent. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia had unemployment rates above the national average of 5.8 percent in November.
Out of the seven metropolitan areas the Department of Labor tracks because of their population densities, only the tech-heavy Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area had a jobless rate below the national average, at 4.7 percent, slightly down from the 4.8 percent in October. The Los Angeles metro area’s rate held at 8 percent, the highest of the metropolitan zones.