Unemployment is Down, Jobs Are Up -- Depending on Where You Live

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: April 2, 2012

North Dakota was the place to be in 2011, at least for people seeking work. 

The state ended last year much as it began: with the lowest unemployment rates in the country, according to numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

According to numbers released last week, the national, seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 8.3 percent. North Dakota, however, had a jobless rate of just 3.3 percent, down from 3.8 percent in December 2010, according to BLS data from December 2011 which focused on individual states. Two other states from the upper Midwest and a pair of New England states round out the list of the five states with the lowest unemployment in December:

1. North Dakota – 3.3 percent

2. Nebraska – 4.1

3. South Dakota – 4.2

4. Maine – 5.1

5. Vermont – 5.1

North Dakota’s exceptionally low jobless numbers can be attributed, in part, to a boom in oil and gas extraction in the western part of the state, said Michael Ziesch, manager of the Labor Market Information center at Job Service North Dakota, the state’s employment services agency. Furthermore, the state generally has not been as affected by the economic downturn as other parts of the country, he said.

“We didn’t really have the exposure to the housing bubble that other parts of the nation did,” Ziesch said. “The economy in the whole state has done very well.”

Along with falling unemployment, came rising employment (which is not always the case, because of the different methodologies used to crunch the numbers). North Dakota experienced job growth of 5.7 percent between December 2010 and the end of last year, with particularly large gains in the construction and professional and business services sectors. 

“It’s a bit of a job-seekers’ market right now,” Ziesch said.

Jobs in the professional and business services sector drove employment growth in three of the top-performing states at the end of 2011. Nebraska saw a 6.3-percent increase in jobs in that field, South Dakota had a 5.8-percent increase, and Vermont experienced an 8.6-percent increase. 

Maine’s employment growth was largely in the finance and education and healthcare fields. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, four states and the District of Columbia continued to struggle with double-digit unemployment rates at the end of the year:

46. Washington, D.C. – 10.4 percent

47. Mississippi – 10.4

48. Rhode Island – 10.8 

49. California – 11.1

50. Nevada – 12.6

The news was not all bad for the two worst-hit states, however. 

California’s unemployment rate was down from 12.5 percent at the end of 2010. The state also added 263,200 jobs between December 2010 and the end of last year. Nevada’s jobless rate improved from 14.9 percent in December 2010.