Economy Watch: State Unemployment Rates, Mortgage Delinquencies, Road Travel

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia had unemployment rate decreases in October compared with September. Mortgage delinquencies are are at their lowest level since November 2007. Travel on all roads and streets nationwide was up 2.3 percent in September year over year.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia had unemployment rate decreases in October compared with September, while five states suffered increases, and 11 states had no change, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday. Forty-two states and D.C. enjoyed unemployment rate decreases from a year earlier, five states saw increases, and three states experienced no change. (The national jobless rate edged down to 5.8 percent from September and was 1.4 percentage points lower than in October 2013.)

Georgia had the unwanted distinction of the highest unemployment rate among the states in October, coming in at 7.7 percent. Right now no state has an unemployment rate above 8 percent, though eight states and D.C. are still at or above 7 percent (besides Georgia, also including Mississippi, Rhode Island, California, Michigan, Nevada, Tennessee, and Oregon). During the pit of the recession, there were 10 states with an unemployment rate at or above 11 percent.

Despite the recent drop in oil prices, energy-boom North Dakota once again had the lowest jobless rate among the states, 2.8 percent in October. Other states with unemployment rates of less than 4 percent include South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, and Minnesota.

Mortgage Delinquencies, Foreclosures Still Dropping 

According to Black Knight’s First Look report, which the company released on Friday, the percent of U.S. residential loans delinquent in October was 5.44 percent, down from 5.67 percent in September. The rate was 6.28 percent in October 2013, and 7.4 percent a year before that, so delinquencies have been on a steady decline in recent years.

In fact, mortgage delinquencies are at their lowest level since November 2007. The “normal” rate – that is, normal for pre-recessionary years – is between 4.5 percent and 5 percent. Black Knight counts as delinquent loans that are more than 30 days overdue, but not yet in foreclosure, regardless of how long they’re overdue.

The percent of loans actually in foreclosure nationwide also declined in October to 1.69 percent, compared with 1.76 percent in September. A year ago, 2.54 percent of mortgages were mired in foreclosure, according to Black Knight.  Foreclosures are at their lowest level since February 2008.

Road Travel Sees Uptick

The U.S. Department of Transportation reported on Friday that travel on all roads and streets nationwide was up 2.3 percent (5.6 billion vehicle miles) in September 2014 compared with the same month a year earlier. The number of miles driven is an indirect indicator of economic activity, and though it saw an uptick recently, the total is still below the peak recorded before the recession, now more than seven years ago.

This stagnation is likely due to a mix of factors beyond straightforward economic considerations, however. In recent years, there’s been a propensity among older drivers to drive less (which has historically been the pattern). More surprisingly, younger drivers are also driving less (which hasn’t been seen before).

Wall Street, which is cruising in all-time nominal high territory, ended Friday (and the week) up again, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 91.06 points, or 0.51 percent. The S&P 500 advanced 0.52 percent and the Nasdaq was up 0.24 percent.