COVID-19 Economic Crisis: By State

Infographic: Highlights of the November 2020 Update

Key Findings

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Every state in the country is well down from its February employment levels. Twenty-eight states have lost over 5% of their jobs, and 32 states are still down more jobs than during the Great Recession.

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The recovery is dramatically weakening—November saw 17 states lose jobs overall and job growth fell off substantially for most of the rest. The nation as a whole lost 140,000 jobs in December.

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In every state, lower wage industries have lost far more jobs than high wage industries.
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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%. 

Every state in the country was still down from its February employment levels as of November—the latest month for which state data are available. Seventeen states lost jobs from October and the rate of job growth declined in almost all the rest. The jobs recovery that began in May following the April collapse has been steadily losing steam since June—finally going into reverse in December as the country lost 140,000 jobs. 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. 

All told, the country is down almost 10 million jobs, 6.5% off the pre-recession level. As of November, net job loss since February was still worse than in the Great Recession for 32 states. In most states, nearly every industry was down jobs from February. Some industries in some states had rebounded completely, but those are the exceptions.

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) for every state except Utah is down.

The need to nationally address the COVID-19 health crisis in order to address the country’s economic woes is evident. Even before the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, individuals, motivated by concerns for their own health and the health of their families and communities, had been reluctant to take the risks associated with a return to many pre-COVID economic activities. More formal public health measures aimed at containing the spread to allow for a stronger economic recovery have been inconsistent throughout the country and have failed to bring the epidemic under control. Widespread vaccination is obviously critical to a full recovery but that is at least months away, making constraining the spread of the virus imperative for both the physical and economic health of the nation.

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 November survey (covering payroll periods containing November 12). Selecting a state on the map will reveal data for the entire period and the latest month.

Net job loss in states has ranged from Hawaii and New York with 15.2% and 10.3% of jobs lost since February, respectively, to Idaho and Utah which have lost 0.4% and 0.5% of their jobs as of November. Twenty-eight states have lost more than 5% of their jobs. October to November saw job losses in 17 states and increases in 32. Of those 32, however, growth was lower than in October in 17 of them and lower than in August for 27.

  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 19.2% of its employment (2.8 million jobs) and the Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation industry has lost 27.9% (690,000 jobs) as of November. Hawaii had seen the biggest net drop in Accommodation and Food Services—down 43.8%, a loss of 49,700 jobs. 

State and local government employment has notably fallen across the country. In the United States overall, state government employment had dropped 6.6% from February to November and local government employment had fallen by 6.8%. State and local governments combined had lost 1.3 million jobs. This included the loss of over 300,000 jobs since August—driven by cuts in education. Since February, the government of New Hampshire reduced its employment by 25.9% according to these seasonally adjusted data. Local governments in Nevada reduced their employment by 11.4%.

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 4.2% of jobs as of November. 

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 November as well as October to November. 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 November, and (3) job change in each month from March through November. 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 is slowing down as 2020 progresses. In total employment, 32 states are down more jobs than they lost from their peak employment to their low point in the Great Recession. Forty-five states have lost more jobs than during the Great Recession in Accommodation and Food Services, 36 have lost more in Heath Care and Social Assistance, 39 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—Construction has returned to pre-recession levels in 15 states, for example.

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. 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.

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, 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.

  1. Employment data are seasonally adjusted.


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, limitations on human contact such as social distancing, and understandable reluctance by consumers 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 continue to spill over into other industries and affect all states. The upward line in Chart 2 is not nearly as vertical as the downward line—and the difference has become more pronounced in recent months. How quickly we will come back is the critical economic question for coming months and years.

Chart 3 shows the changes in employment for the selected jurisdiction for each industry (or for some states, sector). In every state 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 every state. Within Health Care and Social Assistance, industry losses nationally have been mostly in Ambulatory Health Care Services, Nursing and Residential Care Facilities, and Social Assistance. Ambulatory Health Care Services includes physician and dentist offices which have been seen substantial losses. Social Assistance includes Child Day Care, which has seen an employment drop nationally of 17% as of November. Selecting the bars in the charts will show the job changes February to October and October to November.

  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 2.8 million jobs (a 19% decline) as of November and had an average weekly pay of $433 in 2019. Health Care and Social Assistance had lost close to over 800,000 jobs in this time period, Retail had lost 550,000 jobs, and Administrative and Support and Waste Management Services close to 700,000 jobs. These industries' average weekly pay nationally were $996, $646, and $828, respectively. Meanwhile, Management of Companies and Enterprises had lost about 90,000 jobs, and Finance and Insurance had gained 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 November were 10.2% in New Jersey, and 10.1% in both Hawaii and Nevada. Clicking on a state in the map will show the rates for each month from February through October. The chart in Addendum 2 plots the unemployment rate from 2008 through November 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) so far in 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 November. 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, is down significantly from the end of 2019 to the third quarter of 2020.  Map 3 shows the change by state. Every state except Utah has a smaller economy, as measured by GDP, than at the end of 2019. Changes range 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 remains 3.4% lower 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 rebound in the third quarter.

A sortable table in Addendum 3 has a comparison of the total GDP change over this recession 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 are currently experiencing greater loss in GDP than they did during the Great Recession.

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

View Addendum 2: Unemployment Rate 2007 – November  2020

Addendum 2 shows the unemployment rate by month from January 2007 to November 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 Q2, Great Recession Peak to Trough)

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