State of the Facts
The national unemployment rate fell one percentage point to 6.9% in October. Job growth continued at a rate similar to that recorded in September, with 638,000 jobs added to payrolls. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that unemployment dropped in 37 states and jobs increased in 32 states. That reflects a larger share of states with improving economic situations than reported in September, although only two states, Utah and Idaho, managed to match their employment levels from this time last year.
Nebraska again reported the lowest unemployment rate in October — 3% — followed by Vermont, Iowa, South Dakota, and Utah. Illinois recorded the most significant drop in unemployment, falling from 10.4% to 6.8%, while the unemployment rates in seven more states — Rhode Island, Michigan, Delaware, Ohio, Massachusetts, Washington, and West Virginia — fell by at least two percentage points.
The states with the highest unemployment rates in October were Hawaii at 14.3%, Nevada at 12%, and New York at 9.6%. Louisiana and California also had unemployment rates above 9%. However, the unemployment rates in almost all those states were at least the same or better than they were in September — except for Louisiana, one of eight states nationwide where unemployment increased.
Kentucky reported the largest rise in the unemployment rate, at 1.8 percentage points above September, while New Jersey, Arizona, and Louisiana all recorded increases of over one percentage point.
The unemployment rate reflects the percentage of people seeking work who cannot find it, meaning that it can fluctuate as people leave or return to the labor market. While 3.7 million people who left the workforce since February still have not returned — amidst health and safety concerns and the demands of childcare — around 724,000 Americans began seeking work again between September and October.
Total employment is a measure of the number of people with jobs. Only Wisconsin and New Hampshire reported employment declines in October, while another 16 states reported no difference from September. Of the states with increased employment, Alaska and Hawaii had the largest increases, growing jobs by 2.9% and 2%, respectively. Employment in Louisiana increased by 1.2%.
That said, nationwide employment remains down by 10.1 million jobs compared to this past February and 9.2 million jobs compared to October of last year. Hawaii and New York reported the largest percent declines in employment compared to last October — down 17.3% and 10.4%, respectively. In New York, which has a population of 19.5 million, the difference translates to 1 million fewer jobs. That puts it at the second-highest total number of jobs lost over the year of any state, behind the 1.37 million lost by California.
How does the economic damage of COVID-19 break down by industry in Hawaii and New York? In Hawaii, leisure and hospitality made up 19.3% of total employment in February. With health and safety precautions restricting tourism, the industry is struggling. Hotels, restaurants, and other recreational services are behind 55.2% of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic and have yet to be recovered.
In New York, the losses are spread across industries. The leisure and hospitality industry was still the hardest hit — but it supported only 9.8% of total employment in New York back in February. While the industry accounts for 32.3% of unrecovered job losses, education and health services make up another 15.8%, and 15.1% are in trade, transportation, and utilities. Around 14.6% of the lost employment comes from the professional and business services sector.
See more national and state data about the economy and COVID-19 at the Impact and Recovery Hub.
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