You may remember the November national unemployment report as being a strange one. Jobs grew a little, but the unemployment rate increased to 9.8% from 9.6%. The state-by-state results today are also a little odd. Although the unemployment rate only declined in 15 states, employment increased in 35, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What's going on here?

The main reason why both employment and unemployment could increase in a state has to do with labor force size. If the number of potentially employed workers is growing, then each of these categories can rise simultaneously. That's what happened in November for many of these states. The number of unemployed workers increased in 29 states, and the number of employed workers increased in 35. There were 16 states of overlap here, where both categories of workers rose, because their total labor force size increased.

Since this phenomenon was so significant in November, it's difficult to talk about overall trends. But looking a little deeper at the data reveals something about the unemployment problem: it's becoming more localized. If you look at the ten states with the highest unemployment rate, only two saw their rates decline. Here's a chart for the 10 worst (click to enlarge):

state worst unemp 2010-11.png

Only two of these states -- Michigan and South Carolina -- had fewer unemployed workers in Novmeber. That means unemployment declined in just 20% of the worst-10 states. That's much worse than the other 40 states, where 43% saw unemployment decline.

Nevada's labor market continues to be the worst. After its rate dropped to 14.2% in October, it rose again in November to 14.3%. California was the next worst, and its rate has been stuck at 12.4% for four months now. Michigan has been steadily improving, while Florida has been consistently getting worse. The latter's unemployment rate has risen to 12% for the first time since April, increasing a full half-percentage point in just four months.

Meanwhile, for the 10 best states, you see the opposite. Unemployment rose in just two of those in November. The middle is a little more muddled, but the conclusion here is pretty clear. Stronger job markets are mostly maintaining their strength, while weak job markets are generally continuing to struggle.

Here's the map from BLS.

state unemployment 2010-11.png

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to