Nearly all states added jobs in 2017, but the latest Labor Department data suggests most states experienced slower growth last year than in 2016.
Still, it proved to be a particularly strong year for a select group of states -- 10 of which recorded year-over-year job gains exceeding 2 percent.
Nevada experienced the top growth of any state, with preliminary estimates showing a robust 3.3 percent gain over the 12-month period ending in December. The state had enjoyed rapid growth leading up to the Great Recession, before suffering a collapse of its housing market and among the steepest job losses in the country. The more recent job gains represent a comeback for Nevada, although its economy is still not growing at quite the same rate as before.
"We're seeing more modest growth," says Bill Anderson, chief economist for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. "That will hopefully prove to be more sustainable going forward."
Contributing to Nevada's growth are several new construction projects in Las Vegas that are underway or are slated to begin soon. To the north, the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center and Tesla’s expansion are helping drive additional economic growth. A number of other industries, particularly education, health, and professional and businesses services, are also adding jobs throughout the state. “The recovery has proven to be very diverse and broad-based,” Anderson says.
Most states with stronger job growth last year are in the South and West, two regions also welcoming more residents via migration. By contrast, much of the Midwest and northern U.S. continues to experience more tepid job increases. One exception was Massachusetts, where the Boston region’s economic growth is propelling the rest of the state.
Fluctuations in states’ job totals are largely reflective of what’s happening in their major metropolitan areas. For the most part, the biggest metro areas with educated workforces have fared much better coming out of the recession than the rest of the country.
States With Top Average Job Growth in 2017
For an even more comprehensive picture of state jobs, it’s worth looking not just at those December employment numbers, but at states’ job growth across all of 2017 compared to all of 2016. To get those totals, we've calculated a separate measure comparing states' 12-month annual averages for 2016 and 2017.
Again, Nevada reported the top job growth nationally, up 3.1 percent for the year.
Nearly matching Nevada is Utah, which saw its annual average employment climb 3 percent for the year. Much of the growth in the state is occurring in what’s been dubbed the “Silicon Slopes," a region spanning Salt Lake City, Park City and Provo, and where several tech companies, such as Adobe and Dell EMC, have large facilities. Expanding tourism is also helping to prop up the state’s economy, particularly with record attendance at many national parks, says Carrie Mayne, chief economist at the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
But like a lot of states with better job gains, growth slowed somewhat last year. In 2015 and 2016, Utah registered annual average rate increases closer to 4 percent. Mayne says this suggests that the sharp increases leveled off, and she expects more moderate growth this year with a tight labor market. “Everyone who wants a job gets a job,” she says. “Employers are struggling to fill some of the openings they have.”
Florida and Idaho experienced among the strongest job gains last year, but the rate at which they added new jobs also slowed significantly.
In all, a review of the data indicates 30 states and the District of Columbia recorded annual average growth weaker than what they experienced between 2015 and 2016. Two notable exceptions were Texas, which saw its monthly employment average climb 2.3 percent in 2017, and Maryland, where it increased 2 percent. Both represent nearly a two-fold increase from the prior year.
The few states that sustained net job losses resulted primarily from downsizing in the energy and mining industries. The federal estimates indicate Wyoming (-1.2 percent) and Alaska (-0.6 percent) reported the largest declines, although their losses were not as severe as the year prior.
State Annual Average Employment Data
|State||2016-17 Average Change (%)||2016-17 Average Change||2015-16 Average Change (%)||2015-16 Average Change|
|District of Columbia||1.2%||9,408||1.7%||13,000|