Last year was another strong year for the economy as most parts of the country continued to add sufficient numbers of jobs.
States with the strongest growth in recent years, mostly in the western U.S., continued to lead the way in 2018. Meanwhile, parts of the Northeast and the South didn’t fare nearly as well.
In the top states, job growth generally coincided with steep population gains.
No single measure fully captures a state’s economic performance, so the following summarizes several indicators from Labor Department data.
States With the Highest Total Job Gains in 2018
By most measures, Nevada had the best year in terms of total job creation. The state’s total employment increased 3.9 percent over the 12-month period ending in December, while its annual average rose 3.3 percent. This represents a continuation of steady growth that only temporarily came to a halt with the arrival of the Great Recession.
Both the Las Vegas and Reno metro areas experienced among the largest gains of any area nationally. The construction and professional/business services industries in particular propelled much of the growth, with both industries creating 10,000 jobs each statewide.
Utah’s economy similarly enjoyed strong job growth, with total employment up 3.1 percent over the year and an annual average increase of 3.3 percent. All of the state's metro areas recorded solid growth, with the trade, transportation and utilities industries expanding the most.
Arizona similarly registered a 3.4 percent increase in December year-over-year employment, supported largely by expansions in education, health, and professional and business services. Most of the new jobs are being created in the rapidly growing Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metropolitan area, responsible for approximately 82 percent of the state’s total net job gains over the period.
Another western state, Washington, recorded an annual average gain of 3 percent and a year-over-year increase of 3.1 percent. The Seattle metro area accounted for about 63 percent of the state’s net increase -- slightly more than its share of the state’s employment base.
Following not too far behind were Colorado, Idaho and Texas.
Elsewhere, nine states and the District of Columbia experienced weaker annual average increases of less than 1 percent, while employment levels in Alaska and Vermont marginally declined.
SOURCE: BLS total nonfarm employment estimates. (See note.)
How Job Growth Rates Compare to Prior Years
While employment growth in most states mirrored that of prior years, there were several notable exceptions.
In Texas, annual average employment climbed 2.9 percent -- up significantly after two years of weaker growth. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington and Houston metro areas accounted for well over half the state’s net job growth. Midland, while much smaller, remains the state’s fastest-growing metro economy.
After steady losses, Wyoming’s annual average rose for the first time in years. The 2.2 percent increase resulted from a rebound in oil prices, and to a lesser extent, improved natural gas prospects. Wyoming, which has long struggled to diversify its economy, launched a multi-year initiative aimed at attracting new industries under then-Gov. Matt Mead in 2016.
New Mexico and Oklahoma also recorded average job gains just under 2 percent for the year, significantly better than the relatively flat employment of recent years.
Changes in Annual Average Employment by State
|District of Columbia||0.6%||1.0%||1.8%||2.1%|
SOURCE: BLS annual average employment. (See note.)
How Job Numbers Compare to Population
It’s also worth examining the extent to which adults in a state are employed, regardless of whether they’re seeking jobs. Economists consider one of the single best measures to be the employment-to-population ratio for prime-age workers, or those between the ages of 25 and 54.
The vast majority of states saw their ratios climb last year.
South Dakota recorded the largest percentage point uptick for the year (2.2) -- impressive considering its ratio was already relatively high to begin with. Kentucky similarly reported a large increase (2.0 percent) as more of its workers participated in the labor market, although its ratio still remains one of the nation’s lowest. Other states with stronger gains included Connecticut, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada and New Mexico. In these states, significant numbers of workers found jobs after either reentering the labor force or losing their jobs.
The only states sustaining declines in their prime age employment-to-population ratios exceeding one percentage-point were Arkansas, Minnesota and North Dakota .
Residents of states relying more on farming and agriculture tend to be employed at higher rates. The highest ratios for the year -- not considering changes -- were found in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Parts of the South continue to maintain the lowest employment-to-population ratios. The state with the nation’s lowest ratio, though, continues to be West Virginia, where long-term economic woes persist.
Prime Age Employment-to-Population Ratios
|State||Change||2018 Ratio (%)||2017 Ratio (%)|
|District of Columbia||0.7||82.5||81.8|
SOURCE: BLS preliminary Current Population Survey data. (See note.)
Total employment estimates were compiled from the Labor Department’s Current Employment Statistics program, comparing December 2017 and December 2018 estimates, along with calculated annual averages for 2017 and 2018. Data for December 2018 are preliminary and subject to revision. Employment-to-population ratios for prime-age workers represent the calculated percentage of a state’s age 25-to-54 civilian population that is employed from the BLS Current Population Survey.