May's Unemployment Numbers Show Relief for Hardest Hit States

by Staff - Original publish date: June 18, 2012

May was something of a stagnant month for the country's slow jobs recovery, according to numbers released last week by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The national unemployment rate in May was 8.2 percent, essentially unchanged from the prior month. The long-term unemployed made up more than half of this number, with 4.6 percent of the workforce reporting that they have been jobless for more than 15 weeks. With an unemployment rate of 8.4 percent, men were more likely to be out of work than women, who had a jobless rate of 7.9 percent last month.

However, the unemployment numbers go up significantly when the count is expanded to include workers who have essentially given up on finding work, or are working part-time because they are unable to find full-time employment. This group accounted for 14.8 percent of the workforce last month, up from 14.5 percent in April.

On the state level, 18 states had unchanged jobless numbers last month as compared with April. Another 18 states saw their rates go up and 14 had unemployment decreases, though none of these changes were statistically significant. The states that fared the best are the ones that have been doing well for a while now: North Dakota, at 3 percent unemployment; Nebraska at 3.9 percent; South Dakota at 4.3 percent; and Vermont at 4.6 percent. And the states with the highest jobless rates are the ones that have been grappling with considerable unemployment levels for quite some time: Nevada (11.6 percent), Rhode Island (11 percent), California (10.8 percent), North Carolina (9.4 percent).

A comparison of last month's number to those from May 2011 is somewhat more encouraging, however, as some of the states most hard hit by the economic downturn saw significant declines in their unemployment numbers over the past year.

In Michigan, the jobless rate fell from 10.6 percent in May 2011 to 8.5 percent last month. Nevada's unemployment rate fell from 13.7 percent to 11.6 percent over the same period, and Florida's rate fell from 10.6 percent to 8.6 percent. North Dakota increased employment by 6.8 percent over the course of the year, according to the jobs numbers. The state is in the middle of the energy boom, which has helped drive job gains in the construction and professional and business service sectors.

Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas have all experienced significant employment gains since last year as well.