COVID-19 Economic Crisis: By State

Infographic: Highlights of the March 2021 Update

Key Findings

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As the national economy gained 916,000 jobs in March, employment progress was seen in almost every state.  

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Despite these gains, all but two states still have fewer payroll jobs than in February 2020—highlighting how far the economy has yet to recover.

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In almost every state, lower wage industries are down far more jobs than high wage industries.

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Every state saw a decline in economic activity from 2019 to 2020, with drops in Gross Domestic Product ranging from 0.1% to 8.0%.  

As the national economy gained 916,000 jobs in March, progress was seen in almost every state. Despite these gains, all but two states still have fewer payroll jobs than in February 2020—highlighting how far down the economy was in early 2020. About half of the states are still down a higher percentage of jobs than they were at the depths of the Great Recession—which as of the late 2000s was the worst sustained economic downturn since the Great Depression. The country as a whole is still down more jobs than in the Great Recession, with employment reduced by 8.4 million jobs, 5.5% off the February 2020 level.

February and March have marked a turnaround from the preceding 6 months which had seen a jobs recovery steadily losing steam. The United States’ failure to contain COVID-19 and the inability of the federal government to consistently sustain aggressive steps to bolster the economy as earlier measures lapsed had stalled the recovery.

The jobs picture for 2020 reflected a decline in economic activity overall, with every state experiencing a drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 2019 to 2020. 



Map 1 compares states in the percent change in the number of payroll jobs between the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) February 2020 survey and March 2021 survey (covering payroll periods containing March 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 2020 and March 2021 and the change in employment for only the last month: February to March 2021.

As of March 2021 the largest net job shortfall was in Hawaii, which is down 16.9% of its employment, followed by Nevada and New York, which are down 10.2% and 10.0%, respectively (though Hawaii and New York had strong gains in March). Two states, Idaho and Utah, have seen small job increases from February 2020 to March 2021 with gains of 1.3% and 0.7%, respectively. Twenty-five states are still down more than 5% of their jobs over this period. The industries that were hit hardest continue to be down substantial numbers of jobs in most states, although some less dramatically impacted industries in some states are back to pre-COVID levels.

  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 is still down 17% of its employment (2.4 million jobs) and the Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation industry 28% (708,000 jobs) as of March. Hawaii, New York, and Vermont were all down over 30% in Accommodation and Food Services employment as of March. 

State and local government employment has notably fallen across the country. In the United States overall, state government employment is down 5.7% from February 2020 to March 2021 and local government employment has been reduced by 6.4%. State and local governments combined are down 1.2 million jobs. From February 2020 to March 2021, five state governments reduced their employment by over 10%: Hawaii, Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin. Local governments in four states—New Mexico, Vermont, Oregon, and California—have reduced their employment by over 10%.

As discussed more later, the labor-intensive Health Care and Social Assistance industry has contributed greatly to total job losses most states, though in percentage terms it has been less hard hit than the hardest-hit industries, having lost 4.2% of jobs nationally as of March.

Finance and Insurance is the only private industry that has returned to its pre-COVID level of employment nationally but has only fully recovered in 22 states. Other industries in some states have returned to pre-COVID levels of employment—Retail Trade has recovered in 12 states and Construction has returned to pre-recession levels in 11 states, for example. 

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 2020 to March 2021 as well as the change in the latest month: February to March 2021. 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 2020 to March 2021, and (3) job change in each month from March 2020 through March 2021. 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 fallen off over the last half of 2020 and into January 2021, with a pickup in February and, especially, March. In total employment 27 states are down more jobs than they lost from their peak employment to their low point in the Great Recession. Forty-six states are still down more jobs than during the Great Recession in Accommodation and Food Services, 31 are down more in Heath Care and Social Assistance, 42 in local government, and 31 are down more in state government.

  1. Employment data are seasonally adjusted.

Chart 2 shows in stark fashion the extent of job loss, the immediate partial bounce back, the slowing of the recovery, and the turnaround in February. Between February and April 2020, in almost every state, all or most of the jobs gained since the Great Recession were lost. This marked a sharp reversal from the steady climb seen nationally that began in 2010, accelerated starting in 2012, and had slackened in the last few years. The sharp drops of March and April reversed in May but the rate of progress slowed and even reversed in some states as 2020 came to a close and into January 2021. February brought a hopeful acceleration in employment from prior recent months.

  1. Employment data are seasonally adjusted.

The path of the economy has been influenced by the prevalence of COVID-19 and the federal government response. The first flood of cases in early 2020 caused massive job losses. Initial responses by states, businesses, individuals, and the federal government allowed the economy to bounce back after the initial impact, but as cases again rose and federal government support tailed off in the latter half of 2020 and into January 2021, economic progress slowed. As strong steps by the federal government started to have an impact in February and March, and optimism about the health situation has grown, the economy has regained some positive momentum. The hope is that this progress will be sustained and see us to the end of the recession. 

Selections can be made in Chart 2 to show each state total employment or just a specific industry. Two time frames are available: December 2007 to present or a closer look at just 2020 and 2021.

Chart 3 shows the change in employment for the selected jurisdiction for each industry (or for some states, sector). Accommodation and Food Services has contributed the most to job loss in every state except North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, where Mining and Logging has contributed the most job loss, and Kansas where manufacturing has been hardest hit. 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 offices of health practitioners and home health services). Social Assistance includes Child Day Care, which is down 16% nationally in employment as of March. Selecting the bars in the charts will show the change in employment for that industry or sector from February 2020 to March 2021 and February to March.

  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 was down 2.4 million jobs (a 17% decline) as of February and had an average weekly pay of $433 in 2019. Health Care and Social Assistance was down about to 860,000 jobs in this time period, Retail was down over 380,000 jobs, and Administrative and Support and Waste Management Services was down about 510,000 jobs. These industries' average weekly pay nationally were $996, $646, and $828, respectively. Meanwhile, Management of Companies and Enterprises had lost fewer than 90,000 jobs and Finance and Insurance gained over 30,000 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, when looked at this way, Accommodations and Food Services is extremely hard hit. Thus, the reason that large numbers of low-wage workers in this industry have lost their job isn’t just that there are large numbers of them in this industry—it’s also that the industry has been particularly impacted by the pandemic and ensuing recession. Higher paying industries have not lost as large of a share of their jobs. The result is that not only are a large number of waiters out of work, but that a waiter is much more likely to have lost his or her job than a banker.

  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 February were 9.0% in Hawaii, 8.5% in New York, and 8.3% in California, Connecticut, and New Mexico. The United States as a whole had an unemployment rate of 6.0% as of March 2021. Clicking on a state in the map will show the rates for February 2020 (pre-pandemic), April 2020 (the worst month of the Covid Recession), and the four most recent months. The chart in Addendum 2 plots the unemployment rate from 2008 through March 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 and 2021. This is the percent of the population that is gainfully employed. For the country and most states, it has dropped significantly since February 2020, with only a slow recovery since then that stalled in October and has remained fairly flat through the first three months of 2021. 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 in 2020.  Map 3 shows the change in GDP by state between 2019 and 2020. The size of the economy shrunk in every state. Changes ranged from the 0.1% loss for Utah to losses of over 5% in Hawaii, Oklahoma, New York, Michigan, Louisiana, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.  

Chart 6 shows Gross Domestic Product from the end of 2019 through the fourth 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. 

A sortable table in Addendum 3 has a comparison of the total GDP change over 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, 12 states experienced a greater loss in GDP over 2020 than they did during the Great Recession.

View Addendum 1: Sortable Jobs Table (Data through March 2021)

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 March 2021)

View Addendum 2: Unemployment Rate 2007 – March 2021

Addendum 2 shows the unemployment rate by month from January 2007 to March 2021, 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 Q4, Great Recession Peak to Trough)

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