Unemployment Bouncing Back

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State Unemployment Rates: How They’ve Bounced Back So Far

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Key takeaways:

  • South Dakota’s unemployment rate is lower now than it was prior to the pandemic.
  • In 33 states — many of them Midwestern and Plains states — the unemployment rate is currently below the national average.
  • After reaching 30% unemployment in April, Nevada has recovered two-thirds of its lost jobs.

After one of the most difficult years in generations — from both a health and economic standpoint — there is a light at the end of the tunnel. At one point, more than 40 million Americans were out of a job. Fortunately, in recent months, that number has fallen to 6.7% — or around 10 million — although there’s still a long way to go. And, while hiring and rehiring is progressing, it’s not doing so evenly across the country. In fact, some states are already back to their pre-pandemic levels of employment, while one actually has an even lower unemployment rate than it did before the pandemic.

For this report, we looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) comparing pre-pandemic lows of unemployment in February 2020 to rates in December of the same year. We also looked into how jobs have bounced back from the high unemployment experienced in April 2020.

South Dakota & Midwestern States Bouncing Back the Fastest

The Midwestern and Plains states — like Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas — are ahead on their path toward job recovery. They’re led by South Dakota, which has not only recovered all the jobs it lost during the pandemic, but also has an even lower unemployment rate now than it did in February of last year. Here, the unemployment rate was just 3% as of December. Alaska has also recovered all of the jobs lost during the pandemic.

Notably, the states that are bouncing back the fastest tend to be those that have fewer service jobs than others. States that have thriving tourism industries and those that are typically more populous have been hit harder because of their robust services and tourism industries.

However, even states that thrive on tourism and services are bouncing back fairly well. For example, in the depths of the pandemic-induced job loss, Nevada’s unemployment rate eclipsed 30%. But, by December, its unemployment had fallen to 9.2%. And, while this is by no means what would be defined as “bouncing back,” it is a big step in the right direction.

Check out the interactive table below to see how all of the states are doing on their road to unemployment recovery.


Data for this report was obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment Statistics download.

States were ranked based on the difference between their February 2020 unemployment rate and their December 2020 unemployment rate, which was represented by a percentage.

Unemployment in April 2020 was compared with December 2020 for the “states with the highest recovery rate” section.

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