Nationally, the U-6 rate hit a historic high of 22.9 percent in April 2020 representing 36.3 million people. It has since dropped to 10.2 percent representing 16.5 million people. However, in the months prior to the pandemic, the rate was at historic lows—in fact, as low as 6.8 percent. Obviously, while 10.2 percent is far better than 22.9 percent, it is significantly worse than 6.8 percent, representing a difference of 5.3 million workers.
Unfortunately, monthly U-6 data is not available for the states, making any comparison difficult. The BLS currently publishes only experimental U-6 state data averaged over a year’s time.
More useful for the states is the Nonfarm Employment estimates from BLS’s Current Employment Statistics survey. Only two states—Utah & Idaho—have caught up with employment from where they were in February 2020 before the pandemic hit. In contrast, the U.S as a whole is still 5% behind. Georgia ranks 16th among the states and is 4.0 % behind. Hawaii (-14.8%), New York (-9.6%), and Nevada (-8.6%) are the three states furthest behind.
If we use standard economic ARIMA Model time-series forecasting to estimate where employment would have been absent the pandemic, no state is back on track. The United States is 6.8% behind, and Georgia ranks near the middle in 27th place at −6.1%. Utah and Idaho lead the pack being the furthest ahead, while Hawaii, Nevada, New York, California, and Massachusetts trail the pack.
Observations on state differences and policies
In viewing the differences in employment among the states, the more rural states appear to be doing better. The states more dependent on tourism appear to be doing worse. State governments that implemented less severe lockdowns appear to be doing better. To test these observations, we will be running regression analyses to tease out any correlations. We will post the results when completed.
In the meantime, it is important for government to adopt policies that will help businesses to rebound and make it easier for startups. The goal should be not to just lower unemployment but also to bring those sidelined workers back into the labor force.
Erik Randolph is the Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity.