Highest rate of unemployment ever recorded in your state
Jaw-dropping, epic, unprecedented, off-the-charts, shocking, horrendous: You can choose your own adjective to describe the economic destruction COVID-19 caused in April 2020. Unfortunately, your pick will still fail to capture the scope of the first full month of the pandemic’s impact on the labor market.
An astronomical 20.5 million people lost their jobs in April as many businesses closed and consumers sheltering in place kept a tight grip on their wallets. Forbes’ Sarah Hansen puts those job losses into perspective: “That’s nearly every job created over the past decade, gone in a single month.”
So did individual states break job-loss records as well? To find out, Stacker compiled a list of the highest recorded unemployment rate since 1976 in every state using seasonally adjusted April 2020 data that the BLS released in May 2020. It turns out that 43 states did achieve their highest recorded unemployment in April. Adding to the shock of it all: 24 states had actually hit their lowest unemployment rate in history in 2019 or 2020.
Workers in the seven states that didn’t see their historic highs in April weren’t spared by the pandemic and the resulting recession that started in February. It’s just that they actually experienced their bleakest job fronts during economic downturns in the ’70s or ’80s.
Meanwhile, although all major industries shed jobs in April, the sector that contracted the most nationally was leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants, hotels, and entertainment. Employment dropped by 7.7 million, or 47%. State-level data reflects the damage done to workers in this industry, which is full of jobs that can’t be worked remotely.
Perhaps many job losses will prove to be temporary, and huge numbers of laid-off workers will get paychecks again once businesses reopen and a new normal emerges. The nation’s May unemployment rate offered some hope when it dropped to 13.3%. There’s just no certainty in these unprecedented times. “This is a different world,” University of South Dakota professor Ralph J. Brown told a state economic council in May. “We have no experience with the events unfolding.”
Read on to see when your state’s jobless rate hit its historic high, and just how high it went.
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- Highest unemployment rate: 15.5% (Dec. 1982)
- April 2020 unemployment rate: 12.9%
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.7% (Feb. 2020)
The painful 1981–82 recession hit workers in the manufacturing, construction, and mining sectors of the Yellowhammer State particularly hard. High interest rates and the overvalued dollar also contributed to the economic woes of many of the state’s industries.
[Pictured: Ronald Reagan gives a televised address from the Oval Office, outlining his plan for Tax Reduction Legislation in July 1981.]
- Highest unemployment rate: 12.9% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.2% (June 1986)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 5.2% (March 2020)
While 29 states saw statistically significant unemployment rate increases in March 2020, Alaska actually hit its lowest rate that month. Still, trouble was brewing. The governor declared a public health disaster emergency on March 11, and shutdown-related unemployment claims soon began coming in from workers in sectors like accommodation and food services, health care and social assistance, and transportation.
- Highest unemployment rate: 12.6% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.5% (Nov. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.6% (July 2007)
Usually, private-sector employment in Arizona averages a gain of 7,800 jobs in April. However, the country said goodbye to “usual” months ago. This April, the state was 832.5% over April 2019 for unemployment claims. The industries that shed the most jobs were leisure and hospitality, trade, transportation, and utilities, education and health services, and professional and business services.
- Highest unemployment rate: 10.3% (Feb. 1983)
- April 2020 unemployment rate: 10.2%
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.5% (Feb. 2020)
Unemployment peaked in 1983 following the 1981–82 recession. The state—and its governor, Bill Clinton—had serious workforce issues to address. The Washington Post’s David Maraniss wrote, “An estimated 35% of the Arkansas workforce was functionally illiterate, and more than half the residents had not graduated from high school.” Also, “smokestack industries” were moving to developing nation labor markets, and “the capacity to compete in high-technology was limited.”
- Highest unemployment rate: 15.5% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 12.3% (March 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.9% (Feb. 2020)
Though all of California’s 11 industry sectors lost jobs in April, leisure/hospitality was the most affected by the pandemic and shed 866,200 jobs from the month before. The state’s new unemployment record supplanted the last one set during the Great Recession, which dealt a catastrophic blow to the Golden State. The unemployment rate remained in double digits from February 2009 to August 2012.
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- Highest unemployment rate: 11.3% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 8.9% (Sept. 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.5% (Feb. 2020)
Colorado’s nonfarm jobs fell by 323,500 from March to April. “Employment declined by more than the number of wage and salary employees in Wyoming,” economist Gary Horvath told The Denver Post. The most affected sectors included leisure and hospitality, education and health services, and trade, transportation, and utilities.
- Highest unemployment rate: 9.8% (March 1976)
- April 2020 unemployment rate: 7.9%
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.2% (Oct. 2000)
Although a 7.9% unemployment rate is nothing to celebrate, it was the lowest among all states in April. The Connecticut Department of Labor isn’t buying it, though. The department contends that the rate “appears severely underestimated” and predicts that it’s actually “in the range of 17.5%.” The truth will likely be revealed in time, but meanwhile, the record still holds for job losses following the 1973–1975 recession.
- Highest unemployment rate: 14.3% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 9.8% (Nov. 1976)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.0% (June 1988)
Banking and finance jobs in Delaware “have held up fairly well,” according to Patrick Harker, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, while job losses have been “heavily concentrated” in accommodations and food services. Still, Harker warned in his speech, “...in the long term, the uneven recovery will present a risk to our banking sector, which is heavily exposed to sectors like commercial real estate.”
- Highest unemployment rate: 12.9% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.3% (Jan. 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.8% (Feb. 2020)
A record 131 million visitors came to the Sunshine State in 2019, marking the ninth consecutive year tourism was up, but the coronavirus is threatening the streak in a big way. The leisure and hospitality industry was the hardest-hit sector, shedding 479,300 jobs between March and April.
- Highest unemployment rate: 11.9% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 10.6% (Feb. 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.1% (Feb. 2020)
Georgia didn’t have much time to revel when it hit its lowest unemployment rate in February. The governor announced the state’s first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on March 2 and a shelter-in-place order a month later. The sectors with the most regular unemployment insurance initial claims processed since March include accommodation and food services, health care and social assistance, retail, administrative and support services, and manufacturing.
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