Employment Rebound Across the States: A Red and Blue Story

Employment is still recovering from the pandemic-induced recession.  There were 3.6 million fewer workers nationally in December than at the pre-pandemic peak in February 2020. Nationwide, employment fell almost 15% between February and April 2020 and since then it has grown  every month except for December 2020.  As of December 2021, national employment was at 97.7% of its pre-pandemic level.

Some states have seen greater employment growth than others since the low point in April 2020.  Based on the most recent state level data through November 2021, Utah, Idaho, Texas, and Arizona all had higher employment than in February 2020. The state with the fifth highest employment rebound was Montana where employment in November was 99.5% of its employment in February 2020. The five states with the lowest relative employment in November were, in order, Hawaii, New York, Louisiana, Alaska, and Vermont. Hawaii’s November employment was a strikingly-low 87.2% of its February 2020 employment, while Vermont’s was 94.1%.

The accompanying figure depicts each state’s monthly employment indexed to employment in February 2020.  The states with blue lines had Democratic governors in 2020 and the states with red lines had Republican governors.  The two heavier lines indicate how total employment in red and blue states has recovered. Averaged across all Republican-led states, employment in November 2021 was 98.5% of the pre-pandemic level of employment. Across all Democratic-led states, employment was 95.5% of the pre-pandemic level.  

The two largest blue states, California and New York, are depicted with dashed blues lines while the two largest red states, Texas and Florida, are depicted with dashed red lines. In November, California’s employment was only 95.3% of its employment in February 2020, while New York’s was the second lowest of all states at 92%.  In contrast, November 2021 employment in Texas was just over 100% of its February 2020 level, and Florida’s employment was 98.8% of February 2020. The range of outcomes for the individual red and blue states also indicates that there is a degree of overlap. Two red states with low employment rebounds were Alaska and Vermont.  Finally, Montana is a special case - a blue state through the end of 2020 and a red state in 2021 when it elected a Republican governor.  It had the fifth highest employment rebound.

Overall, the employment patterns are consistent with more restrictive Covid-19 policies in blue states when compared to the policies in red states. 


Posted: January 19, 2022 by Dennis W. Jansen, Andrew J. Rettenmaier