States have struggled to win back jobs lost in recession

WASHINGTON — Three years since the recession ended, 43 states have yet to regain the jobs they lost in the downturn. The figure is a reminder of how weak the nation’s job market remains.

The states that are the furthest behind in job growth are those that were hit hardest by the housing bust, such as Arizona, Florida and Nevada.

Overall, the U.S. economy has 3.5 percent fewer jobs than it did before the recession began in December 2007. The national unemployment rate has been stuck at 8.2 percent.

As slow as the recovery in jobs has been, a few states are doing quite well. Seven have more jobs now than before the recession. Several, like North Dakota, Texas and Alaska, are benefiting from an oil boom.

But the rest have lagged behind.

“Except for these energy-producing states, everywhere there’s still this caution in terms of hiring,” Steve Cochrane, a regional economist at Moody’s Analytics, said.

Last month, unemployment rates rose in 27 U.S. states, the most in almost a year.

Unemployment rates fell in 11 states — the fewest since August — and were unchanged in 12, the Labor Department said.

Nevada had the nation’s highest unemployment rate in June at 11.6 percent. The state also had 12.4 percent fewer jobs than before the recession, the biggest percentage of jobs lost of any state.

The state is still reeling more than four years after the housing market went bust.

Nevada had the highest rate of foreclosures in the nation in the first half of 2012, according to RealtyTrac. In the first three months of the year, 61 percent of homeowners were “underwater,” or owed more on their mortgages then their homes are worth, according CoreLogic, a real estate data firm. That’s also the highest share in the nation.

Arizona has also struggled to regain the jobs it lost, with 8.2 percent fewer in June than before the recession. That’s the second-biggest loss. It had the nation’s second-highest foreclosure rate in the first half of the year.

Florida had 7.8 percent fewer jobs in June than before the recession, the third-biggest decline. It had the second-highest proportion of underwater homes in the first quarter.

Nationwide, job growth slowed sharply this spring. Employers added just 75,000 a month from April through June, down from a healthy 226,000 pace in the first three months of the year.

Despite the weak job market, seven states have regained the jobs they lost during the recession. And some are even ahead.

North Dakota had 15.7 percent more jobs in June than it did in December 2007. It also had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.9 percent.

The state’s oil production has soared in the past five years. Drillers have learned how to access previously unavailable oil reserves using a process known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”

The number of oil wells in North Dakota has doubled in the past five years, and oil production has increased fivefold.

Alaska had 3.8 percent more jobs in June than before the recession began, the second-largest gain. It has also benefited from oil production, as has Texas, which was up 2.4 percent in June, the third best.

The other states that have regained all their lost jobs are: New York, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and South Dakota. New York has seen broad-based gains in education and health care, financial services, and other professional services such as legal services and accounting.

A few states are getting close to the positive column. West Virginia and Nebraska are just a few thousand jobs short. Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Maryland are down less than 2 percent.

Economists at IHS Global Insight, a consulting firm, estimate that 8 states won’t return to their pre-recession peak employment levels until 2016 or later.

There are some encouraging signs for many of the hardest-hit states, particularly those out West.

Cochrane said that industries such as information technology and aerospace have accelerated job growth recently in states such as California, Arizona and Utah. The region is also benefiting from trade with Asia, he added.

California added 38,300 jobs in June, its second straight month of big gains.

Florida is recovering, but not as quickly, Cochrane said. Travel and tourism is growing and adding jobs. But there aren’t many other healthy industries.

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