Highest rate of unemployment ever recorded in your state

Written by:
June 23, 2020
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Highest rate of unemployment ever recorded in your state

Jaw-dropping, epic, unprecedented, off-the-charts, shocking, horrendous: You can choose your own adjective to describe the economic destruction COVID-19 caused in April 2020. Unfortunately, your pick will still fail to capture the scope of the first full month of the pandemic’s impact on the labor market.

The national unemployment rate soared to 14.7% in April from 4.4% in March, marking the highest rate and biggest over-the-month increase since record-keeping began in 1948.

An astronomical 20.5 million people lost their jobs in April as many businesses closed and consumers sheltering in place kept a tight grip on their wallets. Forbes’ Sarah Hansen puts those job losses into perspective: “That’s nearly every job created over the past decade, gone in a single month.”

So did individual states break job-loss records as well? To find out, Stacker compiled a list of the highest recorded unemployment rate since 1976 in every state using seasonally adjusted April 2020 data that the BLS released in May 2020. It turns out that 43 states did achieve their highest recorded unemployment in April. Adding to the shock of it all: 24 states had actually hit their lowest unemployment rate in history in 2019 or 2020.

Workers in the seven states that didn’t see their historic highs in April weren’t spared by the pandemic and the resulting recession that started in February. It’s just that they actually experienced their bleakest job fronts during economic downturns in the ’70s or ’80s.

Meanwhile, although all major industries shed jobs in April, the sector that contracted the most nationally was leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants, hotels, and entertainment. Employment dropped by 7.7 million, or 47%. State-level data reflects the damage done to workers in this industry, which is full of jobs that can’t be worked remotely.

Perhaps many job losses will prove to be temporary, and huge numbers of laid-off workers will get paychecks again once businesses reopen and a new normal emerges. The nation’s May unemployment rate offered some hope when it dropped to 13.3%. There’s just no certainty in these unprecedented times. “This is a different world,” University of South Dakota professor Ralph J. Brown told a state economic council in May. “We have no experience with the events unfolding.”

Read on to see when your state’s jobless rate hit its historic high, and just how high it went.


- Highest unemployment rate: 15.5% (Dec. 1982)
- April 2020 unemployment rate: 12.9%
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.7% (Feb. 2020)

The painful 1981–82 recession hit workers in the manufacturing, construction, and mining sectors of the Yellowhammer State particularly hard. High interest rates and the overvalued dollar also contributed to the economic woes of many of the state’s industries.

[Pictured: Ronald Reagan gives a televised address from the Oval Office, outlining his plan for Tax Reduction Legislation in July 1981.]


- Highest unemployment rate: 12.9% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.2% (June 1986)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 5.2% (March 2020)

While 29 states saw statistically significant unemployment rate increases in March 2020, Alaska actually hit its lowest rate that month. Still, trouble was brewing. The governor declared a public health disaster emergency on March 11, and shutdown-related unemployment claims soon began coming in from workers in sectors like accommodation and food services, health care and social assistance, and transportation.


- Highest unemployment rate: 12.6% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.5% (Nov. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.6% (July 2007)

Usually, private-sector employment in Arizona averages a gain of 7,800 jobs in April. However, the country said goodbye to “usual” months ago. This April, the state was 832.5% over April 2019 for unemployment claims. The industries that shed the most jobs were leisure and hospitality, trade, transportation, and utilities, education and health services, and professional and business services.


- Highest unemployment rate: 10.3% (Feb. 1983)
- April 2020 unemployment rate: 10.2%
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.5% (Feb. 2020)

Unemployment peaked in 1983 following the 1981–82 recession. The state—and its governor, Bill Clinton—had serious workforce issues to address. The Washington Post’s David Maraniss wrote, “An estimated 35% of the Arkansas workforce was functionally illiterate, and more than half the residents had not graduated from high school.” Also, “smokestack industries” were moving to developing nation labor markets, and “the capacity to compete in high-technology was limited.”


- Highest unemployment rate: 15.5% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 12.3% (March 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.9% (Feb. 2020)

Though all of California’s 11 industry sectors lost jobs in April, leisure/hospitality was the most affected by the pandemic and shed 866,200 jobs from the month before. The state’s new unemployment record supplanted the last one set during the Great Recession, which dealt a catastrophic blow to the Golden State. The unemployment rate remained in double digits from February 2009 to August 2012.


- Highest unemployment rate: 11.3% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 8.9% (Sept. 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.5% (Feb. 2020)

Colorado’s nonfarm jobs fell by 323,500 from March to April. “Employment declined by more than the number of wage and salary employees in Wyoming,” economist Gary Horvath told The Denver Post. The most affected sectors included leisure and hospitality, education and health services, and trade, transportation, and utilities.


- Highest unemployment rate: 9.8% (March 1976)
- April 2020 unemployment rate: 7.9%
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.2% (Oct. 2000)

Although a 7.9% unemployment rate is nothing to celebrate, it was the lowest among all states in April. The Connecticut Department of Labor isn’t buying it, though. The department contends that the rate “appears severely underestimated” and predicts that it’s actually “in the range of 17.5%.” The truth will likely be revealed in time, but meanwhile, the record still holds for job losses following the 1973–1975 recession.


- Highest unemployment rate: 14.3% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 9.8% (Nov. 1976)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.0% (June 1988)

Banking and finance jobs in Delaware “have held up fairly well,” according to Patrick Harker, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, while job losses have been “heavily concentrated” in accommodations and food services. Still, Harker warned in his speech, “...in the long term, the uneven recovery will present a risk to our banking sector, which is heavily exposed to sectors like commercial real estate.”


- Highest unemployment rate: 12.9% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.3% (Jan. 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.8% (Feb. 2020)

A record 131 million visitors came to the Sunshine State in 2019, marking the ninth consecutive year tourism was up, but the coronavirus is threatening the streak in a big way. The leisure and hospitality industry was the hardest-hit sector, shedding 479,300 jobs between March and April.


- Highest unemployment rate: 11.9% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 10.6% (Feb. 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.1% (Feb. 2020)

Georgia didn’t have much time to revel when it hit its lowest unemployment rate in February. The governor announced the state’s first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on March 2 and a shelter-in-place order a month later. The sectors with the most regular unemployment insurance initial claims processed since March include accommodation and food services, health care and social assistance, retail, administrative and support services, and manufacturing.


- Highest unemployment rate: 22.3% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 10.2% (Feb. 1976)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.2% (Nov. 2017)

Tourism is vital to Hawaii’s economy—it supported 216,000 jobs in 2019 and brought in $17.75 billion that year. So when the governor began discouraging visitors to protect residents, in no small part with a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, the impact on anyone whose livelihood was tied to tourists was bound to be devastating.


- Highest unemployment rate: 11.5% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 10.2% (Dec. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.5% (March 2020)

Idaho is among the states that broke job-loss records back-to-back—going from good to horrifying in an unbelievably short span. Now that nearly all businesses have been allowed to reopen, the state is taking steps to bring the rate down. Noting that more than 60% of Americans sidelined by the pandemic are earning more with enhanced unemployment benefits than their normal wages, Idaho plans to incentivize residents to return to work with one-time cash bonuses.


- Highest unemployment rate: 16.4% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 13.1% (Jan. 1983)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.4% (Feb. 2020)

The three Illinois sectors seeing the biggest job reductions—leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and trade, transportation, and utilities—accounted for 16% of the state’s economy in 2019, according to the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois System. If that weren’t bad enough, the experts’ model estimates that each lost job will trigger about 0.38 additional job losses in connected industries.


- Highest unemployment rate: 16.9% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 12.6% (Dec. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.9% (Oct. 2000)

Indiana was already experiencing fiscal woes before coronavirus fears spread through its borders. The economy had “performed poorly” in 2019, according to researchers at the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. Annualized real GDP growth averaged 0.26% over the first three quarters, and employment growth was stagnant. Hoosier jobs most affected by virus mitigation were in the sectors of leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, and private educational and health services.


- Highest unemployment rate: 10.2% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 9.1% (Jan. 1983)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.4% (March 2000)

Beth Townsend, director of Iowa Workforce Development, told a Senate committee in June that pandemic-related shutdowns have most impacted Iowa’s lowest-paying industries, such as hospitality and retail. Another problem: More than 3,000 employers have told her that office employees are refusing to come back to work. It’s not necessarily a fear of getting sick. “When our generous state benefits are combined with the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefit of $600 per week, 79% of Iowans who have received unemployment since March 15th have made more on unemployment than their average weekly wage,” she said.


- Highest unemployment rate: 11.2% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 7.3% (Aug. 2009)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.8% (March 2020)

The Great Recession pummeled Kansas’s manufacturing sector in 2009, but the most recent economic calamity has hit other industries harder. Leisure and hospitality, as well as education and health services, topped the list of the state’s most impacted industries, with manufacturing ranking fifth.


- Highest unemployment rate: 15.4% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 12.0% (Jan. 1983)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 4.1% (Aug. 2000)

In Kentucky, a whopping 44.2% percent of the workforce filed an unemployment claim between March 1 and May 23, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While all 11 major nonfarm job sectors in Kentucky shed positions in April, leisure and hospitality employment suffered a 42.2% decline, and manufacturing employment dropped 21.7%.


- Highest unemployment rate: 14.5% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 13.1% (Sept. 1986)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 4.1% (Oct. 2007)

Louisiana’s workforce was disproportionately concentrated in hard-hit industries like leisure and hospitality, trade, and transportation before the pandemic, according to a report from the Louisiana Budget Project. By May 1, more than 112,000 of the state’s workers in food service and accommodations had filed unemployment claims, which is more than half the 2019 workforce in that industry.


- Highest unemployment rate: 10.6% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 9.0% (Jan. 1977)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.9% (Sept. 2019)

Retail trade and manufacturing were among the industries hit hardest by the recession of 1973–75, and both sectors have suffered in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. This go-round, the industry experiencing the largest drop is leisure and hospitality, which lost 61% of its jobs between February and April.


- Highest unemployment rate: 9.9% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 8.5% (March 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.3% (March 2020)

Like other states, Maryland has not been immune to economic pain related to COVID-19. Meanwhile, a similar wound felt by the nation—the deep 1981–82 recession—was responsible for its last record-high unemployment rate. Some good news from that peak: the state’s economy recovered quickly and soar over the next six years.


- Highest unemployment rate: 15.1% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 10.3% (Jan. 1976)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.6% (Oct. 2000)

UMass Dartmouth public policy professor Michael Goodman told state lawmakers in April that health care and higher education have historically kept Massachusetts financially stable in tough times, according to CommonWealth Magazine. That could signal a potential problem ahead: The education and health services sector shed 85,900 positions in April, a decline of 10.6%.


- Highest unemployment rate: 22.7% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 16.5% (Dec. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.2% (March 2000)

Michigan’s workforce was battered during the deep 1981–82 recession, but the coronavirus has dealt an even more brutal blow. According to an official state report, the April unemployment rate was eight percentage points above the national jobless rate, which at 14.7% was itself terrifyingly high. The sectors of leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, and trade, transportation, and utilities saw pronounced job cuts in April. Two of every 10 jobs lost were in accommodation and food services.


- Highest unemployment rate: 8.9% (Jan. 1983)
- April 2020 unemployment rate: 8.1%
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.5% (Feb. 1999)

In 1983, Minnesota wasn’t only struggling to recover from the 1981–82 recession, but also the related farm crisis that led to what Linda Cameron of MinnPost describes as “the worst economic conditions the agricultural sector had seen since the Great Depression.” The crisis had a domino effect that hurt bankers, agricultural suppliers, and “Main Street” businesses, according to Cameron.


- Highest unemployment rate: 15.4% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 12.8% (March 1983)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 4.7% (Aug. 2018)

An April survey of the Mississippi business community found that nearly 88% of respondents said their operations had been negatively impacted by the pandemic, with 64% reporting revenue drops of up to 60%. In addition, 49% said none of their employees could work remotely.


- Highest unemployment rate: 10.6% (March 1983)
- April 2020 unemployment rate: 9.7%
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.0% (Oct. 2018)

By early 1983, the region’s economic recovery from the 1981–82 recession was building steam. A Federal Reserve Beige Book Report from the time notes that more sales of new homes were made in February in the St. Louis area than in any other month in three years, and the momentum continued in March. Still, unemployment remained a problem. Many large industrial operations were closed, including a tire plant, a foundry, a farm equipment plant, and a lead-mining facility.

[Pictured: St. Louis Union Station and the Aloe Plaza, St. Louis, Missouri, 1983.]


- Highest unemployment rate: 11.3% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 8.8% (Dec. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.9% (Feb. 2007)

A May analysis from the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research doesn’t sugarcoat the employment situation of the state. It estimates that Montana will lose 75,000 jobs on average in 2020, with worsening prospects for the health care, transportation, and agriculture industries. The report says, “There remains little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has produced a recession that is more severe than anything Montana has experienced in the postwar period.”


- Highest unemployment rate: 8.3% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 6.3% (Jan. 1983)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.3% (Oct. 1990)

Huge numbers of Nebraskans have lost positions during the pandemic, but the state’s 8.3% jobless rate is still far better than the rates of many other areas. The Associated Press notes notes that Nebraska “relies heavily on industries that haven’t been affected as much by the virus and related government restrictions, such as food processing and insurance.” Likewise, it says, Nebraska’s social distancing measures were less strict compared with other states.


- Highest unemployment rate: 28.2% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 13.7% (Sept. 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.6% (Feb. 2020)

Nevada gained two grim distinctions in April: It had the highest unemployment rate among all states and saw the largest unemployment rate increase between March and April (21.3 percentage points). Leisure and hospitality saw the biggest employment decline—36% over the month—dropping the industry to its lowest employment level since 1993.

New Hampshire

- Highest unemployment rate: 16.3% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 7.4% (May 1991)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.2% (March 1988)

The financial crisis that officially ended in 2009 has made the economic devastation from lockdowns even worse for New Hampshire’s workers. “Many only recently had their purchasing power return to levels experienced before the Great Recession,” writes the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute. “This long-term limitation on purchasing power has left many Granite Staters less prepared for this crisis.”

New Jersey

- Highest unemployment rate: 15.3% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 10.7% (Nov. 1976)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.3% (July 2019)

The economy of New Jersey, which has had the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the nation as of June 16, had already begun to slow down by the time many businesses in the Garden State were forced to shut their doors. “Prior to the crisis, employment growth was running at [a] sluggish 1.0% pace and the unemployment rate had been steadily on the rise, hitting 3.8% in March,” according to economists at Wells Fargo Securities. “We expect economic weakness to linger a little longer in New Jersey than the nation as whole.”

New Mexico

- Highest unemployment rate: 11.3% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 10.5% (Jan. 1983)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.7% (Sept. 2007)

According to an official state report, New Mexico lost 3,200 jobs in the public sector, 80,000 jobs in private service-providing industries, and 7,600 jobs in goods-producing industries in April. Meanwhile, the drop in oil prices has created another crisis for this oil and gas-producing state. The mining industry lost 3,200 jobs in April.

New York

- Highest unemployment rate: 14.5% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 10.3% (Jan. 1976)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.7% (Feb. 2020)

The state with the highest number of coronavirus cases has also experienced significant economic ills, especially in the Big Apple. “Damage from the pandemic is particularly intense in New York City because the city’s economy relies heavily on industries that have been largely shut down in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus,” writes the Independent Budget Office of the City of New York, citing the retail, transportation, tourism, leisure, and entertainment industries.

North Carolina

- Highest unemployment rate: 12.2% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.4% (Jan. 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.0% (April 1999)

North Carolina’s leisure and hospitality services sector lost 249,800 jobs in April, and manufacturing suffered as well, dropping 51,200 positions. Meatpacking processing plants remained open that month—the state employed the second-highest number of slaughterers and meatpackers in 2019—and some of those plants experienced outbreaks of COVID-19.

North Dakota

- Highest unemployment rate: 8.5% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 6.2% (Dec. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.0% (March 2020)

The oil and gas sector is vital to North Dakota, contributing to over 72,000 jobs, and had been forecasted to generate 57% of all collected state revenue from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. Then COVID-19 exacerbated difficulties for an industry that was already contending with a price war. By early May, North Dakota had shut 6,800 wells. In April, based on non-seasonally adjusted data, there were 4,934 initial jobless claims by those in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction.


- Highest unemployment rate: 16.8% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 14.0% (Dec. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.7% (Feb. 2001)

Some industries have been more susceptible to coronavirus-related job losses than others. Brookings deemed five sectors “high-risk”: mining/oil and gas, transportation, employment services, travel arrangements, and leisure and hospitality. Unfortunately for Ohio, Brookings also found that Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, and Akron each had more than 15% of regional employment in such highly vulnerable industries in 2019.


- Highest unemployment rate: 13.7% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 8.9% (April 1983)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.9% (March 2020)

Energy-rich Oklahoma is facing twin threats: a distressed energy sector and the pandemic that has made it worse and wreaked havoc across other industries. Oklahoma’s leisure and hospitality sector, which shed 50,300 jobs, experienced the biggest over-the-month job losses in April. Mining and logging, meanwhile, lost 3,000 jobs that month.


- Highest unemployment rate: 14.2% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.9% (Nov. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.3% (Feb. 2020)

Oregon’s leisure and hospitality industry lost more than half of its jobs in April. Other damaged sectors included health care and social assistance, retail trade, professional and business services, and even government. Cruelly, the pandemic is impacting the most vulnerable Oregonians. “The occupational groups with a median hourly rate of less than $20 an hour represented around 66% of total initial claims for unemployment insurance processed over the first 12 weeks,” according to regional economist Damon Runberg.


- Highest unemployment rate: 15.1% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 12.7% (Jan. 1983)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 4.0% (May 2000)

Employment in the commonwealth's goods-producing industries fell 20.6% from March to April, with the biggest job losses in construction. Service industries on the whole fared better, shedding 16.4% of the workforce, but those employed in leisure and hospitality had reasons to feel anxious, as their sector plummeted 58.4%.

Rhode Island

- Highest unemployment rate: 17.0% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.3% (May 2010)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.0% (July 1988)

The Ocean State lost 98,700 jobs between February and April, and every major industry experienced layoffs. The state had higher unemployment insurance claims as a share of the workforce than any other state for the four weeks ending April 11, according to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

South Carolina

- Highest unemployment rate: 12.1% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.8% (Dec. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.4% (Jan. 2020)

In February, the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism said tourism had become a record $23.8 billion industry that supported one in every 10 jobs. However, in April the department’s director said that the vital business is expected to be down about 50% for the year. Leisure and hospitality was the state’s sector that contracted the most in April, down 125,300 jobs.

South Dakota

- Highest unemployment rate: 10.2% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 5.9% (Oct. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.4% (July 2000)

South Dakota’s governor didn’t issue a shelter-in-place order, but that didn’t mean life went on as normal. The tourism industry has suffered, for example, and so has meatpacking. In April, a South Dakota pork processing plant became the #1 coronavirus hotspot in the country.


- Highest unemployment rate: 14.7% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 12.9% (Dec. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.3% (March 2020)

Unemployment insurance claims reveal that the lockdown has been especially devastating for workers in the Greater Memphis area. The Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research reports that during the week ending June 6, new claims fell across all Tennessee regions except Greater Memphis, “which has not seen the degree of decline in recent weeks that have occurred in other regions.” Likewise, the area has “the largest share of claims relative to the workforce.”


- Highest unemployment rate: 12.8% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 9.2% (Sept. 1986)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.4% (June 2019)

The Lone Star State was dealing with two Texas-size menaces in April. Coronavirus affected a broad swath of industries including health care, arts and recreation, retail, and food services. In addition, the nation’s top producer of oil and natural gas was rattled by declining energy prices. “The state’s oil and gas sector has been decimated,” according to Laila Assanie and Chloe Smith of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.


- Highest unemployment rate: 9.7% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 9.6% (Feb. 1983)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.4% (Dec. 2019)

Utah’s job front didn’t look as bleak in April, though still a state low in the unemployment rate. Mark Knold, chief economist at the Department of Workforce Services, refers to it as “a more moderate setback” thanks to the state’s robust pre-pandemic economy that “offered more cushion against disruption than seen across the rest of the country.” Although leisure and hospitality services, trade, transportation and utilities, and education and health services all saw declines, construction and information actually posted net job gains.


- Highest unemployment rate: 15.6% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 8.7% (Jan. 1976)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.3% (May 2019)

Accommodation and food services, retail trade, and construction were among the industries most affected by the lockdown in April. Vermont mandated that employees must complete training on health and safety requirements before returning to work once the state began reopening.



- Highest unemployment rate: 10.6% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 7.9% (Nov. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.1% (Nov. 2000)

Over-the-year employment growth in Virginia had been up for 72 straight months until April, when pandemic-related closings ended the impressive streak. All of Virginia’s major industry sectors contracted that month, and that includes the government, losing 19,000 jobs at the local level, 11,600 jobs with the state, and 900 federal jobs.

[Pictured: Laborers wait in a parking lot for day jobs, in Arlington, Virginia.]


- Highest unemployment rate: 15.4% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 12.2% (Aug. 1982)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.8% (Feb. 2020)

On Feb. 29, 2020, the state of Washington reported that a male in his 50s had died from COVID-19. It marked the first reported death in the U.S. from the coronavirus—though earlier cases would subsequently be attributed to the virus—and the state took swift measures to slow the spread. More than 800,000 workers in Washington have filed for unemployment benefits during the crisis, which The Seattle Times says was “enough to erase the state’s job growth since the early 2000s.”

West Virginia

- Highest unemployment rate: 18.8% (Feb. 1983)
- April 2020 unemployment rate: 15.2%
- Lowest unemployment rate: 4.0% (July 2008)

Though the country’s 1981–82 deep recession had officially ended, many West Virginians were still suffering in early 1983. The drop in demand for coal led to layoffs of thousands of miners and others in jobs related to the sector. The recession also dealt a blow to chemical companies, foundries, machine manufacturers, and lumber mills.


- Highest unemployment rate: 14.1% (April 2020)
- Previous highest unemployment rate: 11.9% (Jan. 1983)
- Lowest unemployment rate: 3.0% (Dec. 2018)

One painful reality of the times is that many of the jobs hit hardest by the lockdowns in the Badger State pay lower wages, according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum. Referencing Census data, the group notes that the average monthly wage in accommodation and food services, which contracted by 133,800 jobs, was roughly one-third the average among all jobs in Wisconsin in mid-2019.


- Highest unemployment rate: 9.4% (Dec. 1986)
- April 2020 unemployment rate: 9.2%
- Lowest unemployment rate: 2.5% (May 1979)

The energy boom ignited by the 1973 OPEC oil embargo was an economic boost for Wyoming, but when oil prices fell, so did employment opportunities in what had become one of the top oil and gas-producing states. The six-year oil bust didn’t only hurt those in the mining industry, but also workers in areas like construction, retail, and manufacturing.

[Pictured: The Brookhurst community just outside Casper, Wyoming, amidst three refineries, a chemical plant, and a trucking firm in 1987.]

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