COVID-19 Economic Crisis: By State

Infographic: Highlights of the January 2021 Update

Key Findings

icon us map

Almost every state in the country is down from its February employment levels. Twenty-seven states have lost over 5% of their jobs, and 33 states are still down more jobs than during the Great Recession.

icon people3

The declining growth in jobs seen since June turned to job loss in 21 states for December as the nation, overall, lost 140,000 jobs for the month.

icon coronavirus
In almost every state, lower wage industries have lost far more jobs than high wage industries.
icon shrink

The size of 49 states’ economies shrunk through the first three quarters of 2020, with declines in GDP ranging from 0.2% to 8.8%. 

All but two states are down from their February 2020 employment levels as of December—with 33 states still experiencing worse job loss than in the Great Recession. The country as a whole is also down more jobs than in the Great Recession, with employment reduced by 9.9 million jobs, 6.5% off the February 2020 level as of January 2021.

The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data show 21 states experiencing payroll job loss from November to December. Not all of those losses were statistically significant, but the month was the first since April in which the nation as a whole lost jobs. The 227,000 jobs lost nationally in December marked the culmination of a jobs recovery that has been steadily losing steam since June. Nationally, the country gained back only 49,000 jobs in January. The failure of the country to contain COVID-19 and the long delay of the federal government in taking aggressive steps to bolster the economy as earlier measures lapsed have stalled the recovery. Official data on the overall level of economic activity lag employment data, but through the first three quarters of 2020 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was down for every state except Utah.

The opportunity to address the nation’s economic woes by addressing the COVID-19 crisis with aggressive public health measures such as sufficiently widespread social distancing and mask wearing was probably lost some months ago. At this point such measures are vital to preventing adverse health outcomes and have some economic benefit, but true recovery is unlikely to arrive before a large portion of the population has been vaccinated. Until then, the public and businesses, motivated by concerns for their own health and the health of their families and communities, will be reluctant to take the risks associated with a return to many pre-COVID economic activities.

Map 1 compares states in the percent change in the number of payroll jobs between the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) February survey and the December survey (covering payroll periods containing December 12). Selecting a state on the map will reveal data for the entire period and the latest month. The selectors at the top of the map allow users to toggle between the change in employment between February and December 2020 as well as between November and December 2020.

Net job loss in states has ranged from Hawaii, Michigan, and New York—which are each down over 10% from their February employment levels—to Alabama and Mississippi, which have lost fewer than 2% of their jobs. Idaho and Utah have seen slight job increases. Twenty-seven states have lost more than 5% of their jobs. The job gains seen after the initial collapse in March and April reversed in many states in each of the last two months as growth steadily, and substantially, tailed off over the second half 2020 across the country. 

  1. Employment data used here are seasonally adjusted, meaning that the Bureau of Labor Statistics accounts for normal seasonal variation in employment due to various factors.
  2. Small differences between states in the percent job change may not be statistically significant.

The hardest hit sector continues to be Leisure and Hospitality, in which, nationally, the Accommodation and Food Services industry had lost 21% of its employment (over 3 million jobs) and the Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation industry has lost 32% (over 800,000 jobs) as of January. Michigan, Vermont, and Minnesota had all seen over 40% declines in their Accommodation and Food Services employment as of December. 

State and local government employment has notably fallen across the country. In the United States overall, state government employment had dropped 6.3% from February 2020 to January 2021 and local government employment had fallen by 6.8%. State and local governments combined had lost over 1.3 million jobs. From February to December, 9 state governments reduced their employment by over 10%. During that time frame three states saw their local governments reduce employment by over 10%: Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

As discussed more later, the labor-intensive Health Care and Social Assistance industry has contributed greatly to total job losses in every state, though in percentage terms it has been less hard hit than the hardest-hit industries, nationally losing 4.3% of jobs as of January. 

Map 1 can display individual sectors and industries as well as employment for all sectors and industries. The table in addendum 1 shows a top-to-bottom ranking, sortable by percentage change, total employment change, and state name—it shows the change in jobs from February to December as well as November to December. The table can list employment for all sectors and industries, or individual sectors and industries. Descriptions of each sector and industry can be found on the BLS website.

Chart 1 compares (1) the change in number of jobs during the Great Recession (December 2007 to June 2009), (2) job loss in the current crisis, February to December, and (3) job change in each month from March through December. Comparisons can be viewed for the nation or a selected state, district, or territory as well as for total payroll employment or a selected sector or industry. 

The overall picture is one of an economic recovery that had stalled overall as of the end of 2020—although a number of specific industries had recovered their job losses in many states. In total employment, 33 states are down more jobs than they lost from their peak employment to their low point in the Great Recession. Forty-six states have lost more jobs than during the Great Recession in Accommodation and Food Services, 35 have lost more in Heath Care and Social Assistance, 40 have lost more in local government, and 36 have lost more in state government.

  1. Employment data are seasonally adjusted.

Finance and Insurance is the only private industry that has returned to its pre-COVID level of employment nationally—and it still lags in most states. Other industries in some states have recovered—Retail Trade has recovered in 22 states and Construction has returned to pre-recession levels in 16 states, for example. Most other industries have recovered in only a handful of states.

Chart 2 shows in stark fashion the extent of job loss. Between February and April, in almost every state, all or most of the jobs gained since the Great Recession were lost. Since May there has been a rebound, but it is well short of the drop in most states and the rate of progress has slowed or even reversed in some states. The chart is available for each state and for each industry.

Also in Chart 2, by selecting the tab above the graph, the longer term trend in total payroll employment can be seen. In particular, the sharp reversal from the steady climb that began in 2010, accelerated starting in 2012, and had slackened in the last few years.

  1. Employment data are seasonally adjusted.

The causes of the Great Recession and the current crisis are very different, and the paths to recovery will be different. Most obviously, the economic path is being significantly dictated by the success or failure in bringing COVID-19 under control. With cases on the rise and federal government support tailing off in the latter half of 2020, economic progress has slowed. The immediate path forward will depend on the national response to the COVID-19 disease and whether the federal government takes adequate steps to address the economic fallout.

Even in the best of circumstances, problems will certainly linger as some industries continue to face substantial headwinds and begin the recovery process significantly weakened. Until the risks of COVID-19 decline significantly, necessary safety precautions and understandable reluctance by individuals and businesses to resume all normal activities will impinge on the operations of many industries. In addition, many employers will be depleted or have ceased operations, and it will take some time to fully recover. These factors will be a drag on the economy more broadly. Lower employment and reduced activity in any industry spill over into other industries and affect all states. The upward line in Chart 2 was not nearly as vertical as the downward line even before it recently plateaued for the country and most states. 

Chart 3 shows the changes in employment for the selected jurisdiction for each industry (or for some states, sector). In every state except Idaho, Accommodation and Food Services has contributed the most to job loss. Health Care and Social Assistance, and Administrative and Support and Waste Management Services have also been hard hit in almost every state. Within Health Care and Social Assistance, industry losses nationally have been mostly in Nursing and Residential Care Facilities, Social Assistance and Ambulatory Health Care Services. Ambulatory Health Care Services includes physician and dentist offices and home health services which have seen substantial losses. Social Assistance includes Child Day Care, which has seen an employment drop nationally of 17% as of January. Selecting the bars in the charts will show the job changes February to December and November to December.

  1. “SA” indicates that the data for the sector or industry are seasonally adjusted. “NSA” indicates that the data are not seasonally adjusted.

Chart 4 shows the relationship between job loss and average weekly wages for each industry. The overwhelming number of jobs lost have been in low-paying industries. Nationally, Accommodation and Food Service had lost 3.1 million jobs (a 21% decline) as of January and had an average weekly pay of $433 in 2019. Health Care and Social Assistance had lost close to 900,000 jobs in this time period, Retail had lost over 380,000 jobs, and Administrative and Support and Waste Management Services close over 600,000 jobs. These industries' average weekly pay nationally were $996, $646, and $828, respectively. Meanwhile, Management of Companies and Enterprises had lost fewer than 80,000 jobs and Finance and Insurance had gained about 27,000 jobs—with average weekly pay of $2,429 and $2,166, respectively. 

  1. Hourly pay levels are not available as comprehensively as weekly wages at the state level so they are not used here, but the pattern for hourly wages is similar to the pattern for weekly wages.

These wage levels are, of course, averages across a wide range of jobs within the industries. Finance and Insurance includes both the heads of Wall Street firms and bank tellers. It is clear, however, that job loss has been significantly more acute in low-wage jobs than high-wage jobs. 

Low-wage employees are obviously much more heavily impacted by job loss. They have less in savings, and those who had employer-provided health insurance are less likely to be able to afford continuing coverage. 

Table 1 shows the percentages of job loss for each industry in the country, selected state, district, or territory. Industries with more employees are, of course, more likely to contribute more greatly to the total numbers of job losses shown in Charts 3 and 4—just as larger states contribute the most to national job loss. From the perspective of an employee, customer, owner, or other stakeholder in an industry, the level of impact is measured best by the percent of jobs in the industry that have been lost. It is notable that, for the most part, the reason the most jobs have been lost in low-wage industries and the fewest in high-wage industries (as highlighted by Chart 4) is not just that low-wage industries employed more people prior to the current crisis. Higher paying industries, while certainly feeling an impact, have lost a much smaller share of their jobs. A waiter, for example, is much more likely to have lost his or her job than a banker. The Information sector has been an exception to this—a higher paying industry with a high percentage of jobs lost.

  1. “SA” indicates that the data for the sector or industry are seasonally adjusted. “NSA” indicates that the data are not seasonally adjusted.

Unemployment Rate

Map 2 shows the unemployment rate. This measure is less reliable than usual under current circumstances. It is a measure of those who are not employed as a share of those who are employed or seeking employment. How respondents respond to survey questions related to whether they are seeking employment in this unusual period is not consistent, which makes the unemployment rate less informative. There are other measures of unemployment, but they are not available by state on a monthly basis.

The highest unemployment rates in December were 9.3% in Hawaii, 9.2% in Nevada, and 9.0% in California. Clicking on a state in the map will show the rates for each month from February through December. The chart in Addendum 2 plots the unemployment rate from 2008 through December for the country or selected state, district, or territory.

  1. Employment data are seasonally adjusted.

Employment-to-Population Ratio

Chart 5 shows the Employment-to-Population Ratio (EPOP) for 2020. This is the percent of the population that is gainfully employed. For the country and most states, it has dropped significantly since February, with only a slow recovery since then that stalled in October. In the long run this measure is influenced by factors such as the aging of the population out of prime working years. The dramatic economic impact of COVID-19, however, currently dominates this measure.

  1. Employment data are seasonally adjusted.

Overall Economic Activity

Economic activity, as measured by Gross Domestic Product, was down significantly from the end of 2019 to the third quarter of 2020.  Map 3 shows the change by state. During that time period, every state except Utah had a smaller economy as measured by GDP than it did at the end of 2019. Changes ranged from the 0.1% gain for Utah to losses of over 5% for Hawaii (8.8%), Wyoming (7.8%), New York (6.1%), Oklahoma (5.6%), and Louisiana (5.3%). 

Chart 6 shows Gross Domestic Product from the end of 2019 through the third quarter of 2020. Each state and the United States can be selected. Nationally, GDP remained 2.4% lower at the end of 2020 than it was at the end of 2019 following a small drop in the first quarter of 2020, a cataclysmic drop in the second quarter, and a large rebound in the third quarter followed by a much smaller fourth quarter improvement. State-level GDP data for the fourth quarter of 2020 will be released later in March. 

A sortable table in Addendum 3 has a comparison of the total GDP change over the first three quarters of 2020 with the GDP loss during the Great Recession for each state. It is notable that although job loss remains worse than in the Great Recession, that is no longer true nationally for GDP. This reflects the particular impact of the current recession on labor-intensive service industries. Despite the national GDP loss being less than that of the Great Recession, 20 states experienced a greater loss in GDP through the first three quarters of 2020 than they did during the Great Recession.

View Addendum 1: Sortable Jobs Table (Data through December 2020)

The table in Addendum 1 can be sorted by percent change in employment, change in the number of jobs, or alphabetically by state. Different sectors and industry can be selected. (Data through December 2020)

View Addendum 2: Unemployment Rate 2007 – December 2020

Addendum 2 shows the unemployment rate by month from January 2007 to December 2020, the most current month for which data are available. The national total or individual state, district, or territory can be selected.

View Addendum 3: Sortable GDP Table (2019 Q4 - 2020 Q3, Great Recession Peak to Trough)

Addendum 3 shows GDP change through the third quarter of 2020 and the drop in GDP during the Great Recession for each state. It can be sorted by either.