Most State Unemployment Rates Down, Healthcare Inflation Slows, Wall Street Calms Down

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported state-level unemployment rates on Friday, and the majority of states were flat or down. PricewaterhouseCoopers released fairly favorable expectations for U.S. medical costs. And Wall Street enjoyed a favorable Friday, following days of en masse selloffs.

Twenty-five states had unemployment rate decreases, 17 states had increases, and eight states and the District of Columbia had no change, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday. In annual terms, state unemployment rates are generally down, as well: 41 states and D.C. had unemployment rate decreases from a year ago, four states had increases and five saw no change.

Once again, Nevada had the highest unemployment rate among the states in May, at 9.5 percent. The next highest rates were in Illinois and Mississippi, coming in at 9.1 percent each. The nation’s lowest unemployment rate was in energy-booming North Dakota (once again), where the jobless rate was 3.2 percent. All together, 21 states had jobless rates significantly lower than the U.S. figure of 7.6 percent, while eight states and D.C. had higher rates and 21 states had rates not much different from the country as a whole.

The largest monthly increases in employment in terms of jobs added in May were in Ohio (up 32,100), Texas (up 19,500) and Michigan (up 18,100). Other states were job losers in May, with Pennsylvania losing the most (down 9,200), followed by South Carolina (down 7,700) and Florida (down 6,200). Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota had the largest month-over-month percentage increases in employment (up 0.6 percent each), while Alaska (down 1.3 percent) and Vermont (down 0.7 percent) had the largest monthly percentage drops in employment. 

Healthcare Inflation Slows 

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Healthcare Research Institute (HRI) recently released a fairly favorable prediction for the increase in U.S. medical costs in 2014—up by 6.5 percent, a full percentage point lower than the organization’s estimate of 7.5 percent for 2013, and relatively low compared with recent decades. The institute’s projection is based on analysis of medical costs in the large employer market, which covers about 150 million Americans. The net growth rate in healthcare costs, after accounting for benefit design changes such as higher deductibles, will be about 4.5 percent.

According to PwC, the still-sluggish recovery is a factor, but so are aggressive steps by employers, new models for delivering care and elements of the Affordable Care Act, all of which are expected to exert continued downward pressure on the health-sector costs. Care continues to move outside costly settings such as hospitals to more affordable retail clinics and mobile health, and major employers such as Walmart, Boeing and Lowe’s now contract directly with major health systems for costly, complicated procedures such as heart surgery.

As for the impact of the Affordable Healthcare Act, the federal government’s new readmission penalties take direct aim at waste in the health system, estimated to be as high as 30 percent. According to government data, hospital readmissions dropped by nearly 70,000 in 2012, and this trend is expected to accelerate through 2014 as hospitals focus on discharge planning, compliance and the continuum of care. For its 2014 projection, HRI interviewed health plan actuaries, industry executives and health policy experts. HRI also analyzed results from PwC’s 2013 Touchstone Survey of more than 1,000 employers from 35 industries.

Investors Less Jittery

Wall Street calmed down somewhat on Friday, following a few days of en masse selloffs in reaction to the comments of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke on Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 41.08 points, or 0.28 percent, and the S&P 500 was up 0.27 percent. The Nasdaq lost 0.22 percent.

Despite last week’s hurly-burly on the U.S. equities markets, investors are still generally ahead of the game in 2013. Year-to-date as of Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained 12.94 percent. The S&P 500 is up 11.66 percent, and the Nasdaq gained 11.18 percent.