New unemployment claims fall to 52-year low: Here are the best and worst states for jobs

·Reporter
·3 min read

The number of Americans applying for first-time jobless claims reached the lowest level since November 1969, with the number of filings dropping to 199,000. 

Improvements in the labor market have been broad-based, with the weekly rate of those rendered newly unemployed falling precipitously across the country since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. 

As usual, the Labor Department's latest weekly report included a breakdown of the states and territories with the highest and lowest insured unemployment rates, or the ratio of people claiming jobless benefits divided by the overall size of the labor force. For a number of states, this key labor market metric improved to its best level in two years, showing an even smaller proportion of their populations were claiming jobless benefits than before the coronavirus outbreak. 

"I don't even think you can call it an economic recovery anymore," Chris Rupkey, chief economist for FWDBONDS, told Yahoo Finance Live. "Remember the best economy in 50 years late in 2019? Well, we're way, way, way above that right now. I don’t even think you can call this a reopening of the economy after the pandemic — we’re miles and miles ahead of the fourth quarter of 2019.”

South Dakota was the state with the lowest insured unemployment rate. As of the week ended Nov. 6, the state's rate was at 0.2% on a seasonally unadjusted basis. The last time this figure was below that level was in October 2019. 

The national average insured unemployment rate was at 1.3% for the same week, or the lowest since December 2019. At its worst pandemic-era point in May 2020, during widespread lockdowns and layoffs, the insured unemployment rate peaked at 15.9% nationally.

Other states also posted insured unemployment rates well below the national average. Alabama's insured unemployment rate for the week ended Nov. 6 came in at 0.3%, or the lowest on record for the state based on data spanning back to the 1980s. Nebraska's rate also came in at 0.3% for the period, marking a two-year low. 

Five states — Kansas, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah and Virginia — posted insured unemployment rates of 0.4% for the start of November, also representing a marked improvement from their pandemic-era highs.

A little less than half of U.S. states and territories — or 19 in total — posted insured unemployment rates at or above the national average at the start of the month. Of these, the Virgin Islands saw the highest rate at 3.0%, which marked a slight uptick from the prior week's 2.2% rate. Still, this was well below its pandemic-era peak of nearly 18% in June 2020. 

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and Alaska each posted insured unemployment rates of 2.7%, tying for the second-highest rates in the nation, based on the latest data. California followed close behind with an insured unemployment rate of 2.6%. Many of the states posting persistently elevated insured unemployment rates have been those that rely heavily on tourism and their service economies, given the ongoing recovery still taking place in these industries after the outbreak. 

"Workers remain in high demand in a labor market where payrolls and the civilian labor force remain well below pre-pandemic levels," wrote Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, in a note Wednesday morning. "Developments on the health front remain a risk that may weigh on labor supply, but we expect workers to gradually return to the labor market, as the cushion from savings diminishes, supporting job growth over coming months."

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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