Unemployment Stuck at Bad

The U.S. Department of Labor reported on Friday that regional and state unemployment rates didn't budge much in March.

April 19, 2010
By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

The U.S. Department of Labor reported on Friday that regional and state unemployment rates didn’t budge much in March. Twenty-four states saw month-over-month increases, 17 states and DC recorded decreases, and nine states were static in terms of unemployment. Compared with a year ago, unsurprisingly, 44 states and DC saw increases and only five registered increases, while one technically broke even.

The states with the largest month-over-month decreases in unemployment March were in Maryland and Virginia, which seems to point to a federal component in hiring, but Pennsylvania, Indiana and New York also recorded significant employment increases. The largest month-over-month increase in unemployment–an example of the Invisible Hand slapping a place that’s already down–was Michigan, which lost 9,500 jobs in March.

In fact Michigan still has the highest unemployment rate in the country: 14.1 percent. Nevada is second on that dolorous list at 13.4 percent, and the enormous economy of California (eighth-largest in the world, about as big as that of France) is suffering a record 12.6 percent unemployment rate. North Dakota, whose economy is about as large as what’s left of Iceland’s these days, has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate: 4 percent.

Consumers Still Pessimistic (Maybe)

Consumers, meanwhile, are still pretty glum about things, according to the latest Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey of consumer confidence. “While consumers think the overall economy will continue to improve, they still hold quite negative views on their own income and job prospects,” said Richard Curtin, director of the surveys, in a statement.

Overall consumer sentiments dropped to 69.5 in early April, which compares with 73.6 in March. That has professional economists scratching their heads, since after all the economy has seen some job growth lately, no inflation and an uptick in pending home sales. Then again, the economy still has a case of galloping foreclosures and stubborn high unemployment.

On the other hand, a separate poll by Rasmussen has Americans feeling a bit better about the economy lately–an index of 78.4 by its reckoning in March, compared with 76.3 in February. The April monthly numbers aren’t done, but Rasmussen does its surveys daily, and as of Sunday the index was 80.1.

Chinese Property Speculators Not So Pessimistic (Yet)

What to do when residential property prices record a gain of 11.7 percent in one month? The month was March, the country China, and the Chinese government might be a tad nervous about the trend. Moreover, in some parts of the country, 11.7 percent would be puny indeed. In Hainan’s capital city of Haikou, for instance, real estate prices ballooned by 53.9 percent last month.

Last week the government ordered banks to stop lending for third-home purchases in certain overheated cities (e.g., Shanghai and presumably Haikou), as well as a suspension of lending to buyers without certain documents, such as tax returns.

The move comes after China raised mortgage rates and down payments for second homes. According to Sino-observers, more market-cooling measures are probably in the wings. The question now is whether “cool” will ultimately be the right verb to describe the near-term future of the Chinese property market, or whether “pop” will be more apt.

Wall Street apparently didn’t take well to the news that the SEC is after Goldman Sachs, or maybe it was the impact on the travel industry of the volcanic cloud over Europe, but in any case the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 125.91 points, or 1.13 percent, on Friday. The S&P 500 was down 1.61 percent and the Nasdaq lost 1.37 percent.