One of the main indicators of the state of the United States economy is the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate is reported every month by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The unemployment rate is not only a measure of the economy’s strength but also a measure of the overall happiness and wellbeing of U.S. citizens. Long-term unemployment is a burden for many and can cause financial, emotional, and psychological ruin. A person’s ability to provide for themselves and their family, pay their bills, and contribute to society are key factors in maintaining a happy life and cultural wellbeing.
There are three types of unemployment, all of which help explain why there is unemployment at a given time.
- Frictional unemployment is caused by temporary transitions people make when moving to a new location, entering or re-entering the workforce, or switching from one job to another in search of better pay or a better fit of their skills. Frictional unemployment is also caused by employers laying off or hesitating to hire employees for reasons unrelated to the economy.
- Structural unemployment happens when there is a mismatch in the demographic or industrial composition of a local economy. This happens when new technology causes a decline in older industries, which must then lay off workers to stay competitive. Outsourcing is also a part of structural unemployment.
- Cyclical unemployment occurs when there is not enough demand for goods and services in the economy at large to provide jobs for everyone. This is a natural result of capitalism.
As of December 2019, the national unemployment rate is 3.6%. The unemployment rate varies between states, ranging from 2.30% to 6.10%. In general, the current unemployment rates in the states are lower than they were in 2018, with only a few exceptions.
Alaska has the highest unemployment rate of 6.10%. This, however, is lower than its 2018 unemployment rate of 7.30%. Alaska is in a statewide recession and has seen the fastest rate of job losses since 2015. The higher unemployment rates can be attributed to the seasonality of jobs, the natural frictional unemployment, and the population that lives a subsistence lifestyle.
Mississippi and the District of Columbia also have considerably high unemployment rates at 5.3% and 5.0% respectively. While Mississippi’s unemployment rate has dropped over the past few years, its labor force participation rate is only 55.9%, meaning that a little over half of the state’s eligible workers are active in the economy. In D.C., black residents are six times as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts, with unemployment rates for each group being 11.3% and 1.9% respectively.
South Carolina, Utah, and Vermont are tied for having the lowest unemployment rate of 2.30%. South Carolina’s unemployment rate hit four historic lows from September 2019 to December 2019, decreasing from 2.9% to 2.3%. In addition to seeing a low unemployment rate, Utah has also seen the fastest rate of job growth in 2019 of any state, which was up 3.2% vs. the national average of 1.5%. Vermont business owners, like business owners in other states with low unemployment rates, consider the low unemployment rate to a problem as they are quickly growing and will have trouble finding qualified workers, resulting in lower production and cutting back on business hours.