States With the Strongest Job Growth in 2016

All but nine states added jobs but at a slower pace than the year before.
by | January 24, 2017
Nevada, which had some of the biggest job gains last year, benefited from a strong construction sector. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. Department of Labor released the last state-level job estimates for 2016 on Tuesday, providing an updated snapshot of their economies.

All but nine states recorded year-over-year gains in total employment. In 26 states and the District of Columbia, the Labor Department considered the increase statistically significant. For the most part, states that performed particularly well last year also did so in 2015.

Biggest job gains

Oregon’s economy had another strong year, with total employment climbing 3.3 percent -- the largest increase of any state. Growth that had been limited to the Portland region has since expanded to other parts of the state in recent years.

Florida’s labor force similarly expanded at a rate of 3.1 percent, adding an estimated 251,000 jobs over the 12-month period. A recent University of Florida survey found consumer sentiment among residents had reached its second-highest level in more than a decade. A resurgence in tourism and population growth has further boosted the state’s economy.

Not too far behind were two western states -- Nevada and Washington -- which each grew at a rate of 3 percent. Nevada benefited from a construction sector that registered among the strongest gains of any industry in the state. Tourism has also propped up the state’s economy, with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reporting total visitor volume up 1.5 percent for the year, along with greater increases in gaming revenues.

California added the most total jobs of any state -- 333,000 -- and grew at a rate of 2 percent.

Biggest job losses

After enjoying sharp gains for several years, employment in oil-producing states continues to shrink.

The largest job losses over the 12-month period were in Wyoming (-2.8 percent) and North Dakota (-1.8 percent). While both states also recorded declines in 2015, the losses accelerated significantly last year.

Alaska similarly shed jobs last year after experiencing relatively flat employment in 2015. The situation there could worsen if federal and state government cutbacks occur because public employees account for approximately a quarter of the workforce.

Several southern states also registered slight declines, while total employment remained relatively flat in Connecticut and Maine.

The following table shows changes in total employment between December 2015 and last month:

NOTE: December 2016 estimates are preliminary.

SOURCE: Governing calculations of BLS data

Alternatively, comparing annual averages for each state yields mostly similar results. By this measure, Arizona and Idaho recorded stronger growth last year, while states like Missouri didn’t add as many jobs as their December estimates suggest.

While most state economies continued to grow in 2016, two-thirds of them did so at a slower pace than in 2015. When annual average growth rates are compared with 2014-2015 figures, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming experienced the largest percentage-point rate reductions. Meanwhile, growth accelerated in Michigan, South Dakota and a few other states.

SOURCE: Governing calculations of BLS annual average employment estimates