Regional and State Unemployment Down Again in December: South and Midwest Led The Way

Continuing the ongoing trend, three fourths of the states plus the District of Columbia recorded somewhat decreased unemployment rates in December, according to figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Tuesday. 10 states showed no change, and three posted increases. Compared to December 2010 the overall U.S. jobless rate dropped by 0.9 percent. All rates are seasonally adjusted.

Regionally, the South and the Midwest showed the largest monthly drops in unemployment (-0.3% each), and the West with -0.2%. Over the past year all regions have shown significant drops in unemployment, with the West recording the largest decrease with -1.3 percent.

In terms of unemployment rates themselves, the highest numbers continue to occur in the Pacific region, with 10.4 percent in December, and the lowest shown in West North Central with 6.1 percent. However, from December 2010, the Pacific also recorded the largest decrease in jobless numbers (-1.3%).

As for unemployment per state, Nevada continues to have the highest rate with 12.6 percent, followed by California with 11.1 percent. The lowest numbers are again found in North Dakota with 3.3 percent, with Nebraska and South Dakota with 4.1 and 4.2 percent, respectively. In roughly half the states, the rates were lower than the national rate of 8.5 percent, eight were higher, and eighteen were about the same.

Statistics for nonfarm payroll employment changes for the past year show the most gains in large states: California (263,200), followed by Texas (204,500), and Florida with 133,900. The unemployment rates for December 2011 in those states, respectively, are 11.1, 7.8, and 9.9 percent.

While the highest jobless percentages still occur in certain areas, decreases in rates are more evenly spread out. This could be interpreted as a general improvement in employment, rather than increases in specific types of industries and occupations, that are concentrated regionally. Exceptions would include North Dakota and nearby states, whose economies are greatly helped by a new oil industry.

January regional and state numbers will be released on February 29. Labor force data will then be revised to incorporate “updated inputs, new population controls, reestimation of models, and adjustment to new division and national control totals”, according to the BLS.