14 states hit record-low unemployment
By: REID WILSON
Fourteen states have set new records for low unemployment rates in the last year, nearly a decade after the recession put millions of Americans out of work.
In March, eight states hit new record lows, including Hawaii (2.1 percent), Idaho (2.9), Kentucky (4.0), Maine (2.7), Mississippi (4.5), Oregon (4.1) and Wisconsin (2.9).
California also set a new record last month. The Golden State's unemployment rate stands at 4.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That's the lowest rate recorded since BLS began keeping track of state-level unemployment figures in 1976, and it's a third of the 12.3-percent unemployment rate California notched at the height of the recession in December 2010.
Colorado's unemployment rate is just 2.6 percent, among the lowest in the nation, and a third of the 8.9-percent peak it hit in 2010.
In Alabama, just 3.7 percent of workers are unemployed. Arkansas reached a 3.6-percent unemployment rate last May, its lowest rate ever.
North Dakota set its own record last year. Texas hit a 3.9-percent unemployment rate in November, after peaking at 8.3 percent during the height of the recession. Tennessee fell to the lowest unemployment rate it has ever measured, 3.3 percent, in January.
Hawaii's unemployment rate is the lowest in the nation, BLS said. Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin all have unemployment rates lower than 3 percent.
Such a tight job market means businesses are competing for workers, rather than workers competing for scarce jobs. That has some economists combing through data in search of evidence of rising wages, which have been largely stagnant since the recession.
Wages have risen only slowly in recent months. The average hourly earnings of non-farm employees stood at $26.82 in March, up from $26.11 at the same time last year.
Alaska has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, at 7.3 percent, as low commodity prices challenge a state that performed relatively well during the recession. But Alaska's unemployment rate has historically been higher than the national average; the lowest rate the state has ever recorded, in June 2007, was 6.3 percent, markedly higher than the 4.6 percent national unemployment rate at the time.
The District of Columbia and New Mexico had unemployment rates of 5.6 percent last month, while West Virginia's rate stood at 5.4 percent.