Everyone's a winner in the 1997 labor market

Last year was another exceptional year for the U.S. economy, and the best year in three decades for the U.S. labor market. The national unemployment rate was at 5% or below during every month of 1997 after March, and averaged 4.


Last year was another exceptional year for the U.S. economy, and the best year in three decades for the U.S. labor market. The national unemployment rate was at 5% or below during every month of 1997 after March, and averaged 4.9% for the year as a whole -- the lowest jobless rate since 1973. More net new jobs were added than at any time in our history, and a record 64.1% of the population was employed at the close of the year -- more than 6% higher than in 1973.

All regions of the nation saw labor market conditions improve during the year. Summarized in the following list are the states and metropolitan areas that are in particularly good shape as we enter 1998.

There are many ways of assessing the relative health of the job market for a state or area. The most obvious way is to look at the unemployment rate. The ten states with the lowest rate of unemployment at the close of 1997 are led by the Plains states; all have jobless rates well below the 4.7% U.S. average for December 1997.

The unemployment rate is a good indication of how well a state or area is doing in generating enough jobs for the resident labor force, but it doesn't tell us anything about the dynamics of the local labor market. Looking instead at the numbers concerning job growth reveals both where the largest number of new jobs are being created, and the gains in new employment relative to the current employment base. The sunbelt states with relatively attractive climates are a magnet for new firms and new workers, including immigrants. Not surprisingly, California, Florida, and Texas between them created more than 800,000 new jobs during 1997. Percentage growth was highest in the Rocky Mountain states.

States with lowest unemployment rates

(December 1997)

State Unemployment, %

Nebraska 1.9

North Dakota 2

South Dakota 2.7

New Hampshire 2.9

Iowa 2.9

Utah 2.9

Minnesota 2.9

Colorado 3

Virginia 3.4

Delaware 3.4

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