Capitol Comments

The traditional unemployment rate is a well known and oft cited economic indicator. Most people know that the national unemployment rate started increasing during the Great Recession and has remained elevated ever since – it has been hovering around 9 percent for nearly a year.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes national and state level unemployment rates monthly.  The BLS also publishes alternative measures every month from the Current Population Survey (CPS) that give us a more informed look at labor underutilization.

Although the national unemployment rate has dropped a full percentage point from its peak of 10.1 percent in October 2009, improvement has been slow and a particularly troubling measure – long-term unemployment – is at record highs. The Economist reports that workers are getting off the unemployment rolls and into a job more slowly than at any time since 1948. And, for the first time in decades, jobless workers are now more likely to drop out of the labor force entirely than to get a job.  

The U.S. Department of Labor has released data on how much each state “overpays” in unemployment insurance benefits, or when a state sends unemployment checks to those who are not eligible. The Department also reports on the steps several states are taking to rein in improper payments.

Colorado, Montana, Ohio, Washington and Oregon have each announced increases to their 2012 minimum wages, according to CNN. The triggered increases range from 28 cents to 37 cents per hour. These four states and six others (AZ, FL, MO, NV, OR, and VT) have minimum wages that are linked to inflation (the consumer price index), which means the minimum wage is normally increased each year according to the Department of Labor.  In January 2011, seven of the ten trigger states increased their wages - the three exceptions being Florida, Missouri and Nevada.

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that state unemployment rates changed very little in August 2011, with all 45 states staying within 0.2 percentage points (+/-) of their July rate. A majority of states (45) recorded unemployment rates in August that were not appreciably different from those reported a year earlier. Nevada remained the state with the highest unemployment rate at 13.4 percent. The national rate stayed the same at 9.1 percent, but fell 0.5 percentage points over August 2010.

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