The Bakken boom treated North Dakota well.

Photographer: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

States That Bounced Back, and States That Didn't

Justin Fox is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”
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Employment in the U.S. hit bottom near the beginning of 2010. Since then we've had almost six years of steady job growth.

It's been a lot steadier in some states than in others, though. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released state-by-state job numbers for December on Tuesday, and that seemed like a good opportunity to assess which states have been having a good recovery and which have not.

Here are the standouts in payroll-employment growth since January 2010:

It's all states in the West and South, with the exception of North Dakota. Then there are the laggards:

This is more of a grab bag, with every one of the Census Bureau's four big regions (West, Midwest, South, Northeast) represented.

Some states fared much worse in the Great Recession than others, so it's also worth looking at job growth since January 2008, when payroll employment last peaked. Again, here are the standouts:

North Dakota had a bigger job gain from 2008 to 2015 than from 2010 to 2015, meaning that it actually added jobs during the recession. So did D.C. They were the only two parts of the U.S. that didn't experience a jobs decline. Alaska barely did (employment fell just half a percent from January 2008 to December 2009), while Massachusetts and New York rose to the top 10 through a combination of milder-than-average recessions and stronger-than-average job growth since.

Nevada, meanwhile, was the state worst hit by the real-estate bust -- with a 12.6 percent employment loss in 2008 and 2009 that moved it to the top of the laggard list despite pretty solid job growth since.

Energy markets play a role in these rankings. Wyoming and West Virginia are the nation's biggest coal producers, and this has been a terrible time for coal. The spectacular job growth in North Dakota, meanwhile, has been fueled mainly by oil drilling in the Bakken Formation in the western part of the state. Over the past year and a half, though, oil prices have collapsed. And yes, North Dakota is feeling the effects.

The Bakken boom catapulted North Dakota to second place among the states in crude oil production. No. 1, by far, is still Texas. The biggest city in Texas, Houston, is also one of the global headquarters of the oil and gas industry. So Texas must be hemorrhaging jobs too, right? Well, no. The pace of job growth has slowed, and the state had two down months last year (March and August). But the trajectory has still been upward, even (just barely) for metropolitan Houston. Texas now appears to be about more than oil -- although of course continuing troubles in the industry could still drag it down.

Texas has also been the country's biggest creator of new jobs for quite a while. Since 1990, it has added 4.9 million jobs; California is in second place with 3.8 million. Here's employment in the five most populous states over that period:

When I write a column about state jobs numbers, some commenters inevitably attempt to break things down along blue-state versus red-state lines. And of course contrasting low-tax, Republican Texas with high-tax, Democratic California is a favorite pundit pastime.

I'm not sure how illuminating such comparisons are. What I see when I look at these charts and numbers is mainly a continuation of the long trend of people and economic activity moving westward and southward, to states both red and blue. I also see some interesting exceptions. Some are energy-related, as discussed. Then there are a few key metropolitan areas along the East Coast Acela corridor (D.C., New York, Boston) that have been bucking the regional trend, at least lately, and a few of the least affluent Southern and Western states (Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico) that can't seem to get themselves out of the doldrums. Economic growth does not always conveniently fit political narratives.

  1. I use the jargony term here to make clear which employment numbers I'm referring to. This is data reported by employers in the Current Employment Statistics survey, not data reported by households in the Current Population Survey. CES gives us the nonfarm payroll number that people get all excited about on Twitter every month; CPS gives us the unemployment rate. All the numbers in this column are from CES.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Justin Fox at justinfox@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Zara Kessler at zkessler@bloomberg.net