Unemployment Down in Most States; Leading Economic Indicators, Consumer Sentiment Up

The unemployment rate in 40 states and the District of Columbia dropped. The Leading Economic Index increased 0.6 percent in April to 95, following a 0.2 percent decline in March. And consumers seem more optimistic as of mid-May.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the unemployment rate in 40 states and the District of Columbia dropped, while three states experienced increases and seven states had no change in April compared with March. Compared with April 2012, 43 states and D.C. enjoyed unemployment rate decreases, while seven states suffered increases.

Nevada still has the unenviable distinction of the highest unemployment rate among the several states, as it has for some time now, coming in at 9.6 percent in April. But even that’s an improvement, since the state spent the recession and most of its aftermath in double-digit unemployment rate territory. The next highest rates were in Illinois (9.3 percent), Mississippi (9.1 percent), and California (9 percent), which were the only four above 9 percent—something that hasn’t been true since before the recession.

Energy-rich North Dakota again had the lowest jobless rate, 3.3 percent. According to the BLS, the largest jobless rate declines from April 2012 occurred in Nevada (down 1.9 percentage points), Rhode Island (down 1.8 points), and California and Florida (down 1.7 points each). 

Leading Economic Indicators Up 

The Conference Board said on Friday that its Leading Economic Index increased 0.6 percent in April to 95 (2004 = 100), following a 0.2 percent decline in March, and a 0.4 percent increase in February. Components of the index include (among others) building permits, manufacturers’ new orders, stock prices, weekly initial unemployment claims, interest rates, and consumer expectations for business conditions.

Leading the increase for the month were housing permits and the interest rate spread, according to the Conference Board. Labor market conditions also contributed, although consumers’ outlook on the economy remains weak. In sum, the index points to a continuing economic expansion with some upside potential.

The Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein said in a statement that “the biggest risk right now is the adverse impact of cuts in federal spending. The biggest positive factor is the potential for improvement in the recovering housing and labor markets. The biggest unknown is the resiliency in confidence, both consumer and business.” 

Consumer Sentiment Improves 

Consumers seem more optimistic as of mid-May, according to the Friday’s update of the Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index. The index was up to 83.7 for the mid-month reading, compared with 76.4 for the final April reading and April’s mid-month of 72.3. The continuing improvement in the employment picture, as well the drop in gas prices, seem to be working a bit of magic on consumer mindsets.

Investors are apparently more optimistic, too, since Wall Street had a strong upward day on Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 121.18 points, or 0.8 percent. The S&P 500 spiked 1.03 percent and the Nasdaq was up 0.97 percent.

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