Economy Watch: State Unemployment Rates, Homebuilder Confidence

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that most states had unemployment rate increases over the past month, while the NAHB finds that homebuilder confidence ticked up to its highest level in the past seven months.

Thirty states had unemployment rate increases in July compared with June, eight experienced decreases, and 12 states and the District of Columbia had no change, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Monday. The longer-term movement, however, is more positive: 49 states and DC had unemployment rate decreases from July 2013 and only one state had an increase.

For the month, Tennessee saw the largest increase in its unemployment rate, edging up 0.5 percentage points. Georgia, South Carolina, and Wyoming were up 0.4 percentage points each, while Maryland and Vermont both gained 0.3 percentages points and Iowa was up 0.1 percentage points.

Mississippi had the unwanted distinction of suffering the highest unemployment rate among the states in July, at 8 percent. Energy-booming North Dakota again had the lowest jobless rate, coming in at 2.8 percent. All together in July, 18 states had unemployment rates significantly lower than the U.S. figure of 6.2 percent, while eight states and DC had measurably higher rates, and 24 states had rates that weren’t much different from that of the country, according to the BLS.

The largest month-over-month increases in employment occurred in Texas (a gain of 46,600 jobs), California (up 27,700), and Michigan (up 17,900). The largest month-over-month drop in employment occurred in Ohio (with a loss of 12,400 jobs), followed by Maryland (down 9,000) and South Carolina (down 4,600).

Home Builders Feeling More Cheerful

Builder confidence in the market for newly-built, single-family homes rose two points to 55, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index for August, which was released on Monday. The gain, which is the third monthly one in a row, brings the index to its highest level since January.

The index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” All three index components posted gains in August. The indices gauging current sales conditions and expectations for future sales each rose two points to 58 and 65, respectively. The index tracking traffic of prospective buyers increased three points to 42, and is the only one still below the optimism-pessimism threshold of 50.

“Each of the three components of the [index] registered consecutive gains for the past three months, which is a positive sign that builder confidence appears to be firming following an uneven spring,” NAHB chief economist David Crowe noted in a statement. “Factors contributing to this rise include sustained job growth, historically low mortgage rates, and affordable home prices, which are helping to unleash pent-up demand.”

Investors were feeling more chipper on Monday as well, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 175.83 points, or 1.06 percent. The S&P 500 was up 0.85 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.97 percent.