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Is the Job Market Looking Up?

We've all heard about the state of the economy and how difficult it's been to find a job -- but are things finally looking up? They might be if the latest employment statistics for March 2011 are any indication. According to the latest figures, the national unemployment rate dropped to 8.8% in March, which is the lowest it's been in two years. Also encouraging is the fact that the unemployment rate has fallen by a full percentage point over the past four months, which is its largest decline since 1984.

United States Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis saw the positives in the numbers in an official statement about the data: "[The] numbers highlight steady, sustained and widespread job growth. Private employment has now grown for 13 consecutive months, with February and March showing the strongest growth since early 2006. And since its low point in February 2010, private sector employment has risen by 1.8 million."

The private sector saw growth in March with 230,000 new jobs, but local governments are still struggling, as 16,000 jobs were lost during the month, which is still an improvement over the 46,000 government jobs lost in February.

But of course everything isn't necessarily wine and roses everywhere. Below are some of the best (and worst) states in the country when it comes to unemployment, using the most recent stats available (February 2011).

States with the Highest Unemployment Rate in February 2011:

1. Nevada (13.6%)
The unemployment rate in Nevada has dropped slightly (it was 14.7 percent in February 2010), but the state has also had 25 consecutive months of double-digit unemployment.

2. California (12.2%)
Mired in state budget troubles, California still has a long way to go when it comes to catching up with the rest of the country in unemployment.

3. Florida (11.5%)
When you think of Florida you might think of South Beach and sunny retirement communities, but the state has been hard-hit by the housing bust, and the resulting downturn for the construction industry.

4. Michigan (10.4%)
Still smarting from auto industry woes and a $1.4 billion dollar state deficit, Michigan just signed a new law which shortens the duration of unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks.

5. Kentucky (10.4%)
The manufacturing sector is seeing a comeback in the Bluegrass state, but Kentucky's economy is still in the doldrums, including the trade, transportation, utilities and professional and business services industries.

States with the Lowest Unemployment Rate in February 2011:

1. North Dakota (3.7%)
The state's unemployment rate has been under 5% since 1987, and its per capita income has risen over the last decade from 38th in the nation to 17th, thanks to an oil boom, profitable agriculture and new manufacturing jobs.

2. Nebraska (4.3%)
As with North Dakota, the growing importance of agriculture has helped keep unemployments rates down in the cornhusker state.

3. South Dakota (4.8%)
The state's unemployment rate has grown slightly in the last three months, but is still way under the national average.

4. New Hampshire (5.4%)
According to an eBay study, "New Hampshire has the lowest crime rates in the country, the fourth lowest unemployment rates, and the ninth highest personal income per capita, making it the most economically buoyant state in the country." Sounds good to us.

5. Vermont (5.6%)
Vermont's new governor, Peter Shumlin, is stressing the need to focus on manufacturing, renewable energy, tourism, technology and agriculture. Will it work? That remains to be seen, but the state seems like it's in good position to do so, given its current low unemployment rate.

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