Employment prospects looked rosier for jobless Americans in most states in April, especially for those in the South, where unemployment was the lowest, data from the Labor Department show. All four U.S. regions experienced slightly lower jobless rates last month that were also stronger than their year-ago figures, pointing to a labor market that is slowly but surely regaining momentum.
At 8.3 percent, Rhode Island had the highest jobless rate in the U.S. for the third month in a row in April. North Dakota had the lowest rate at 2.6 percent. By comparison, the national average jobless rate dropped to 6.3 percent last month from 6.7 percent in March.
Two states, South Dakota and Alabama, saw an increase in their jobless rates in April from March, 43 states saw their rates decline and five states and the District of Columbia were unchanged from the prior month, according to Friday's report. From a year ago, 47 states and the District of Columbia experienced unemployment rate decreases, one state – Alabama – had an increase and two states – Alaska and Missouri – had no change. North and South Carolina had the biggest improvements in their jobless figures since last year.
"That shows that the improvements are pretty broad across the country," says Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.The nationwide unemployment rate is 1.2 percentage points lower than its year-ago level of 7.5.
Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia added jobs in April, the report showed. Payrolls decreased in 10 states and were unchanged in Nebraska.
The West had the highest unemployment at 7 percent, and the South had the lowest unemployment at 5.9 percent.
"A lot of the South is in the oil patch, so Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and right along the Gulf, I understand that the unemployment rate is low and linked to refining," Burtless says. "There’s a lot of oil we’re getting from Canada to refine and we’re a big net exporter of refined petroleum products now, and I think that’s keeping a lot of places on the Gulf coast busy."
Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. and Houston-based Phillips 66 are two oil giants keeping the Texas economy humming. Unemployment there is 5.2 percent, down from 6.4 in April 2013.
The graph shows that 19 states had unemployment rates in April that were significantly lower – by at least 0.8 percentage points – than the national jobless rate. Seven states and the District of Columbia had significantly higher jobless rates by at least 0.9 percentage points. The rates of the other 24 states were not “appreciably different” from the rest of the nation, today’s report showed.
Though their jobless rates are among the highest in the
U.S., Illinois and Nevada had the biggest declines in their unemployment rates
from March to April, both falling 0.5 percentage points.