The number of new jobseekers applying for first-time claims reached its lowest level since March 2020 last week, with the number of filings coming in at a better than expected 293,000.
But even with the nationwide improvements in the pace of those who have just quit work, some states have fared better than others in bringing down their levels of unemployment.
Labor Department's latest weekly report broke down the states with the highest unemployment rates and lowest unemployment rates. This metric is a direct measure of the share of people entitled to jobless benefits divided by the overall size of labor force. The results underscored the long-lasting disparity in the unemployment picture across varied parts of the country.
As of the week ended Sept. 25, the national unemployment rate was 1.8%, not seasonally adjusted. This level has come down sharply from a pandemic-era high of 15.9% in May 2020, but is still elevated compared to 2019's average of 1.2%.
Some states had insured unemployment rates well below the national average. At the end of September, Alabama led the nation with an insured unemployment rate of 0.2%, followed by South Dakota with a rate of 0.3%. Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota and Utah followed after following these states with each of these states registering uninsured unemployment rates of 0.4%.
Many of these states have maintained much better unintended unemployment rates throughout the last few years of the pandemic. Of these six states with the current lowest insured unemployment rates, only Alabama had ever seen its rate climb into double-digit percentages at the height of the pandemic last year. South Dakota's by contrast peaked at just 6% during the week closed May 9, 2020.
But other states have struggled to bring down their insured unemployment rates. For the week ended Sept. 25, the highest insured unemployment rates were in Delaware at 4.4%, Puerto Rico at 4.3% and Illinois at 3.3%. These three regions comprised the top three uninsured rates for two consecutive weeks, together with the top - insured unemployment rates.
Hawaii, with an insured jobless rate of 2.9% and the Virgin Islands with a rate of 2.8% rounded out the top five states and territories with the most elevated insured unemployment rates in recent data. Both represent virus-driven economies still struggling to bounce back from tourist-driven travel disruptions.
These rates, however, belie the progress made across these states relative to their virus-era highs. Hawaii's unemployed unemployment rate peaked at 23.5% during the week ending May 9 and has since plunged by 20.6 percentage points. And in April 2020 – one of the first states to implement lockdown measures - California saw its insured unemployment rate skyrocket to as high as 27.8%.
Given this context, one of the biggest takeaways for economists from the latest jobless claims report overall was the affirmation that the biggest headwind in the labor market is a shortage of workers entering the labor force, rather than a dearth of employer demand for workers. At the national level, job openings have held near an all-time high at more than 10 million, with the quit rate jumping to a record 2.9% to signal increased confidence in finding new work.
At a time when a record number of workers are leaving their jobs, we reminded that some businesses are still failing as the pandemic takes its toll, resulting in unexpected job loss, Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate, wrote in an email on Thursday of the latest jobless claims report. With so many jobs available and opportunities to work at least some of the time, the good news is that workers stand a reasonable chance of improving their employment situation, including better pay and working conditions. Clearly, that s what many want.