Change in employment since before the pandemic in every state

  • Employment in almost every state is still below its level in February 2020.
  • The number of jobs in Hawaii in December was 13.6% below February, the largest decline among the states.
  • Employment in Utah and Idaho at the end of 2020 was slightly above pre-pandemic figures.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Almost all states still had fewer jobs than before the pandemic at the end of last year, but just how far these states are from reaching previous employment levels vary.

States that rely on industries that have been harder hit nationally by the pandemic are especially far below their February employment levels. This is seen in tourism-dependent states like Hawaii and Nevada which have 13.6% and 6.9% fewer jobs respectively than last February. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks monthly employment and unemployment rates at the state level. The most recent month available for state-level data is December, when the US saw its first month of job loss since April’s decline of over 20 million jobs. The total number of nonfarm payroll jobs in the US in December was 6.5% below its level last February, the month before COVID-19 began to spread widely in the US and many states put lockdown orders into place.

The following map highlights the percent change in employment between February 2020 and December 2020 in every state: 

Based on the preliminary December data, employment at the end of 2020 was slightly above employment before the pandemic in Idaho and Utah, at 0.2% and 0.3% respectively. Hawaii, Michigan, and New York on the other hand had the highest percent declines, ranging from 10.7% in New York to 13.6% in Hawaii.

“The main reason why some states have seen bigger job losses than others is the local job mix,” Jed Kolko, Indeed’s chief economist, told Insider in an email. “Places that depend more on tourism — especially air travel — have suffered more. So have places where more people work in jobs like tech and finance that can be done from home and therefore are spending less at local restaurants, retail, and services.” 

Elise Gould, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, agrees.

“States that rely more heavily on the harder-hit industries, like tourism, could be seeing a more acute difficulty from this time,” Gould told Insider. 

For instance, Hawaii’s leisure and hospitality industry had 47,500 fewer workers than last February, or a 37.3% decline. Even after Hawaii started allowing visitors with a negative test result from other states to bypass a 14-day quarantine (now 10-day quarantine) in mid-October, tourism is still low.

Visitor arrivals dropped 75.2% in December 2020 from December 2019, per the Hawaii Tourism Authority. A recent report from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization‘s wrote that “more significant tourism gains will be seen in the second half of 2021 after vaccines becomes widely available.”

Hawaii is looking to diversify its economy to make the “state less vulnerable” to sudden changes, Gov. David Ige said. One way the state is doing this is by attracting remote workers with the Movers & Shakas program. Insider’s Aki Ito wrote that the program received 90,000 applications and chose 50 people to “stay on Oahu for at least a month and volunteer with a community nonprofit,” as Ito wrote.  

In December, Hawaii had the highest unemployment rate among the states at 9.3%, followed by Nevada at an unemployment rate of 9.2%. Both of these rates are higher than the national unemployment rate of 6.7% in December. 

Some states in the Southern region of the US also had smaller percent declines between February and December. For instance, December employment levels in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi were all around 2% lower than in February. Bloomberg reported that these three states in particular have mainly been open throughout the pandemic and had fewer job losses from a year ago. 

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that the Southern region has had the smallest percent decline in employment compared to the other regions of the US. December employment in Southern states was 4.1% below February’s level, while December employment in the Northeast was 9.2% below February’s level, the largest decline among the four regions.  

One reason for this, as the Journal’s chart of the regional data shows, is that the hard-hit leisure and hospitality industry did not see as big of a decline between November and December in the Southern region compared to the other parts of the US. 

Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities, told the Wall Street Journal that the winter weather in the South helps make it easier to participate in outdoor dining compared to some other regions.

State regulations have also contributed to slow job growth in some places. Vitner told the Wall Street Journal that “stricter business limits” in California and New York have affected growth. California is 8.3% below February employment, and New York is 10.7% below February employment. 

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