State Unemployment Declining; Consumer Sentiment Edges Up

Twenty-two states had unemployment rate decreases in February. And the consumer sentiment index for March was up month over month.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that month over month in February, 22 states had unemployment rate decreases, 12 states experienced increases, and 16 states and the District of Columbia saw no change. Since the same month last year, the drop was a bit more dramatic: 37 states and D.C. had unemployment rate decreases from a year earlier, while 10 states saw increases and three states reported no change.

For the month, Texas created the largest number of jobs (up 80,600), while California was second (up 41,200) in job creation. As for percentage increases in state employment in February, Utah was first, seeing a 1.4 percent increase, followed by Idaho (up 0.8 percent) and Texas (up 0.7 percent). Rhode Island and Nevada had the largest percentage drops in employment for the month (down 0.6 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively). 

All the states now have official unemployment rates under 10 percent. California, Mississippi, and Nevada had the highest unemployment rates among the states in February, 9.6 percent each. Energy-boom North Dakota again had the lowest jobless rate, 3.3 percent. The national average is 7.7 percent, 0.6 percentage points lower than in February 2012. 

Consumer Sentiment Edges Up 

The final Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for March was up to 78.6 from the preliminary reading of 71.8, and up compared with the February 2013 reading of 77.6. Though the index is still fairly low, it was a larger jump that expected. 

Factors depressing consumer sentiment recently include the fracas over the budget in Washington, and perhaps more immediately, worry about the rising price of gas. Both of those problems seem to have faded for the moment, with Congress avoiding a shutdown of the federal government in March, and both the payroll tax increase and sequestration seemingly permanent fixtures of the economy.

As for the price of gas, it’s been going down lately. According to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report on Sunday, a gallon of regular averaged $3.636, compared with $3.671 a week earlier. One month ago, the average was $3.771 (and a year ago, it was $3.925).

Wall Street had the day off for Good Friday, with U.S. stocks ending last week on Thursday at new highs. European exchanges have been considerably more wobbly recently, with the Stoxx Europe 600 Index dropping  0.1 percent in a shortened week before Friday; during the previous week, the index had dropped the most in four months because of the unsettle in Cyprus. Asian exchanges were open on Friday, and mostly down for the day, though reportedly more because of regional economic concerns than anything to do with Europe.