Best and worst states if you’re unemployed — and want a job

If you find yourself unemployed and desperately looking for job opportunities, don’t panic. Unemployment in America has been dropping steadily for the past five years and now hovers around 3.6%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But some states provide more opportunities than others if you’re trying to find a job. GOBankingRates compared average unemployment rates, employment growth rates, job opening data and more to determine the best states to land a job if you’re out of work. 

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Best and worst states if you're looking for a job while unemployed
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Best and worst states if you're looking for a job while unemployed

50. West Virginia

  • 5-year employment growth: 0%
  • 10-year employment growth: -3.6%

West Virginia is the worst state for unemployment. This state tied for the third-highest average unemployment rate over the last five years at 6%, and its five-year labor force participation rate ranks dead last at 53.3%.

49. Alaska

  • 5-year employment growth: -2.1%
  • 10-year employment growth: 0.2%

With only 10,604 job openings throughout the state, Alaska isn’t a great place to be if you’re unemployed. Consider this: The state has the highest underemployment rate in GOBankingRates’ study at 12%, which means many employees are overqualified for the jobs that they’re working. Alaska also has the highest five-year average unemployment rate in the country at 6.9%.

48. New Mexico

  • 5-year employment growth: 5.1%
  • 10-year employment growth: 1.3%

While New Mexico doesn’t rank last anywhere in this study, it doesn’t score particularly well in any category, either. The state’s five-year average unemployment rate of 6.2% is the second worst nationwide.

47. Wyoming

  • 5-year employment growth: -5.9%
  • 10-year employment growth: -3.5%

The employment growth rate in Wyoming is trending in the wrong direction. With a decline of 5.9%, the state has the worst five-year employment growth rate in the U.S. by a wide margin. The only other states with negative five-year employment growth rates are Alaska and North Dakota.

46. Louisiana

  • 5-year employment growth: 1.3%
  • 10-year employment growth: 1.8%

Louisiana has positive employment growth numbers, but they aren’t anything to celebrate. There are only 42,496 job openings for 104,350 unemployed Louisianans. The ratio of job openings to the number of unemployed people is just 40.7%, the second-worst ratio in the nation.

45. Mississippi

  • 5-year employment growth: 5.9%
  • 10-year employment growth: 2.6%

Mississippi has one of the worst labor force participation rates in the nation, with five- and 10-year rates coming in at 55.56% and 57.3%, respectively. Also, the ratio of job openings to the number of unemployed people is a dismal 35% — the lowest ratio of all the states.

44. Nevada

  • 5-year employment growth: 15.5%
  • 10-year employment growth: 17.4%

Nevada has shown impressive growth in employment over the last decade. Its five- and 10-year employment growth rates are among the best in the nation. However, the state is losing big in other important categories. Nevada’s 10-year average unemployment rate of 8.88%, for instance, is the worst in the country.

43. Arkansas

  • 5-year employment growth: 6.2%
  • 10-year employment growth: 1.6%

Arkansas’ average labor force participation rates are less than stellar: 57.8% over the last five years and 59.49% over the last 10 years. The state’s ratio of job openings to the number of unemployed people, at 55.4%, also leaves something to be desired.

42. Kentucky

  • 5-year employment growth: 5.6%
  • 10-year employment growth: 5.8%

Kentucky’s high underemployment rate of 8.1% might be directly related to its poor ratio of job openings to unemployed people. At 52.1%, Kentucky’s ratio ranks among the bottom five in the nation.

41. Alabama

  • 5-year employment growth: 6%
  • 10-year employment growth: 6.6%

Like many of the states that ranked lower, Alabama has low labor force participation rates across the board. With five- and 10-year averages of 57.02% and 58.27%, respectively, Alabama has the third-worst labor force participation rates in the country.

40. Ohio

  • 5-year employment growth: 3.6%
  • 10-year employment growth: 0.6%

Employment growth was nearly stagnant over the past decade in Ohio, but it has picked up in recent years. Still, Ohio’s underemployment rate sits at 8.3%, and its 264,830 unemployed residents make up the seventh-largest total among all states.

39. Montana

  • 5-year employment growth: 4.4%
  • 10-year employment growth: 6.6%

Montana’s average unemployment rate over the last five years is a solid 4.2%. However, the unemployment rate has only decreased by 1.4% during that time span, which is one of the smallest drops in the nation.

38. New York

  • 5-year employment growth: 5.2%
  • 10-year employment growth: 3.8%

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of jobs in New York. With 259,738 openings in the Empire State, only California and Texas have more. But New York’s 68.6% ratio of job openings to unemployed residents means many people still have to hustle to find work.

37. Oklahoma

  • 5-year employment growth: 5.1%
  • 10-year employment growth: 6.6%

Oklahoma’s average unemployment rate has dipped only marginally in the past decade, going from 5.14% to 4.4%. The underemployment rate in Oklahoma is the same as the nation’s average, at 7.5%.

36. New Jersey

  • 5-year employment growth: 3.6%
  • 10-year employment growth: 2.5%

Unemployment rates in New Jersey are slightly higher than average. The five- and 10-year average unemployment rates in the state come in at 5.3% and 7.19%, respectively — though the job market appears to be getting better. The most recent estimate from the BLS has New Jersey’s unemployment rate at 3.8%.

35. Pennsylvania

  • 5-year employment growth: 3.7%
  • 10-year employment growth: 2.2%

While unemployment in Pennsylvania may not be dropping as fast as some would like — from December 2013 to December 2018, the average unemployment rate decreased by only 2.5% — the Keystone State is still faring better than many other states. Pennsylvania also has a respectable industry variety score, which indicates its workforce is spread out across many industries as opposed to being concentrated in a select few.

34. Maryland

  • 5-year employment growth: 5.9%
  • 10-year employment growth: 8.7%

At 8%, Maryland’s underemployment rate is higher than average, but at least residents are working. The state’s five-year average labor force participation rate of 67.14% is the 12th highest in the nation.

33. Michigan

  • 5-year employment growth: 8.3%
  • 10-year employment growth: 7.1%

Michigan’s job market appears to be on the upswing. Over the past five years, average unemployment has dropped to 5.3% — which is an improvement from the 10-year average of 8.11% — while employment growth has risen by over 8%.

32. Arizona

  • 5-year employment growth: 16.3%
  • 10-year employment growth: 13.8%

The state with the most impressive employment growth in the U.S. over the last five years is Arizona. However, the state’s average unemployment rate of 5.6% during that time span ranks among the bottom 10 in the nation.

31. Maine

  • 5-year employment growth: 2.9%
  • 10-year employment growth: 4.5%

Maine doesn’t shine in any particular category, but its average five-year unemployment rate is a reasonable 4%. That’s tied for the 13th-lowest rate in the country.

30. Connecticut

  • 5-year employment growth: 6.6%
  • 10-year employment growth: 4.8%

Employment in Connecticut has grown steadily by nearly 7% over the last five years, and the state’s unemployment rate has also dropped by 3.3% in that time frame. Connecticut’s lower overall rank in GOBankingRates’ study is likely a result of its underemployment rate of 8.9%. It’s the seventh-highest underemployment rate in the nation.

29. Hawaii

  • 5-year employment growth: 6.1%
  • 10-year employment growth: 11.7%

Hawaii has one of the lowest five-year unemployment rates in the U.S. at 3.1%. This is good news, given the extraordinary cost of living and income required to live in the Aloha State. Luckily for Hawaii residents, there are nearly enough jobs for everyone. The ratio of job openings to the number of unemployed people is 97.5% — one of the highest ratios in the nation.

28. Illinois

  • 5-year employment growth: 4.2%
  • 10-year employment growth: 2.2%

Illinois saw one of the biggest drops in unemployment over the last five years. The 4.2% decrease is the fourth largest across all the states. Illinois’ industry variety score of 9.69% also ranks fourth best in the nation.

27. Delaware

  • 5-year employment growth: 12.3%
  • 10-year employment growth: 12.8%

Delaware is another state that experienced rapid employment growth over the last decade. Its five- and 10-year numbers in this category rank among the top 15 states in the nation.

26. Washington

  • 5-year employment growth: 12.7%
  • 10-year employment growth: 11.3%

Like Delaware, the state of Washington saw a boom in employment over the last 10 years. However, one factor keeping Washington from ranking higher in GOBankingRates’ study is its underemployment rate. At 8.4%, it’s the 10th-highest rate in the country.

25. South Dakota

  • 5-year employment growth: 4.1%
  • 10-year employment growth: 3.7%

While it’s not as low as neighboring North Dakota’s unemployment rate, South Dakota’s five-year average unemployment rate of 3.2% still ranks among the best in the nation. The state also earns high marks for labor force participation and underemployment.

24. Kansas

  • 5-year employment growth: 1.9%
  • 10-year employment growth: 0.8%

Kansas’ employment growth numbers aren’t too impressive compared to some of the other states on GOBankingRates’ list, but underemployment is below average at 6% and the five-year labor participation rate is strong at 67.58%.

23. Indiana

  • 5-year employment growth: 10%
  • 10-year employment growth: 10.5%

Another state with double-digit employment growth numbers, Indiana saw a significant dip in its unemployment rate over the last 10 years. The 4.6% decrease is the 11th-largest drop in the nation during that time span.

22. Rhode Island

  • 5-year employment growth: 6.4%
  • 10-year employment growth: 4.8%

Rhode Island presents respectable employment growth numbers. But the change in the state’s unemployment rate is what really stands out. The 5.1% decrease in the unemployment rate over the last five years ranks No. 1 in the U.S.

21. South Carolina

  • 5-year employment growth: 9.5%
  • 10-year employment growth: 14.3%

The 14.3% employment growth rate over the last 10 years is one of the highest in the nation, so it makes sense that unemployment also saw a remarkable decrease. From December 2008 to December 2018, the unemployment rate fell by an average of 5.9% — the largest change among all the states.

20. Tennessee

  • 5-year employment growth: 11.8%
  • 10-year employment growth: 12.3%

Tennessee has seen double-digit employment growth over the past five- and 10-year periods. Despite this, unemployment is relatively high in the Volunteer State, averaging 4.8% over the last five years and 6.88% over the last 10 years. Additionally, the ratio of job openings to unemployed people in Tennessee is 69.1%.

19. Florida

  • 5-year employment growth: 12.2%
  • 10-year employment growth: 17.9%

The rate of employment growth in Florida has been strong over the past five- and 10-year periods. Because of the state’s high percentage of retired residents, it has a low five-year labor force participation rate of 59.58%.

18. North Dakota

  • 5-year employment growth: -1.5%
  • 10-year employment growth: 9.8%

North Dakota’s five-year employment growth may not look impressive, but it has more residents working than almost any other state. The 72% five-year labor force participation rate is the highest in GOBankingRates’ study, and underemployment is also the lowest at 4.7%.

17. Oregon

  • 5-year employment growth: 14.6%
  • 10-year employment growth: 13.2%

Oregon has had very strong employment growth over the last 10 years. However, it doesn’t rank higher due to a low 10-year labor force participation rate of 63.55%, as well as a relatively high underemployment rate of 8.3%.

16. Vermont

  • 5-year employment growth: 0.2%
  • 10-year employment growth: -0.9%

Vermont has seen low employment growth over the past 10 years, but the problem seems to be caused by a lack of workers — there are 1.29 openings for every job seeker. The unemployment rate has averaged just 4.4% over the past 10 years.

15. Iowa

  • 5-year employment growth: 2.5%
  • 10-year employment growth: 3.3%

While employment growth in Iowa has been moderate, the unemployment rate has averaged just 3.5% over the past five years and 4.5% over the past 10 years, which are among the lowest unemployment rates across the country.

14. Wisconsin

  • 5-year employment growth: 5.9%
  • 10-year employment growth: 5.1%

Wisconsin has seen steady employment growth and a decline in unemployment over the last five- and 10-year periods. Also, the state’s underemployment rate is an attractive 6%.

13. Virginia

  • 5-year employment growth: 5.7%
  • 10-year employment growth: 7.6%

Employment in Virginia has grown moderately over the last 10 years compared to the other states on GOBankingRates’ list. But Virginia has 1.23 job openings for every person looking for a job, which is the second-highest ratio of all the states.

12. Nebraska

  • 5-year employment growth: 1.6%
  • 10-year employment growth: 4.4%

Despite slow employment growth rates, Nebraska has one of the lowest unemployment rates of all the states on GOBankingRates’ list. Over the last five years, the unemployment rate has averaged just 3%, and over the last 10 years, it has been 3.66%.

11. Missouri

  • 5-year employment growth: 5.2%
  • 10-year employment growth: 5.7%

Missouri has a strong score for industry variety, so if you and your spouse work in different industries — or if you’re open to a change in industry — this could be a good state to seek work. Employment growth has been moderate, however, as has the labor force participation rate.

10. Georgia

  • 5-year employment growth: 13.4%
  • 10-year employment growth: 13.3%

Georgia has experienced double-digit employment growth over the past 10 years, making it one of the strongest states in that category. The labor force participation rate, however, is fairly low: 63.78% over the last 10 years.

9. California

  • 5-year employment growth: 9.9%
  • 10-year employment growth: 13%

California is home to a wide variety of industries, from technology to tourism to agriculture. So, it’s no surprise that California has felt strong employment growth. Of all the states in the top 20, however, the Golden State has the lowest ratio of job openings to unemployed workers, at 59.3%.

8. North Carolina

  • 5-year employment growth: 10.7%
  • 10-year employment growth: 14.6%

North Carolina has witnessed double-digit employment growth over the last 10 years. And, the Tar Heel State has the most variety in industries of any state.

7. Texas

  • 5-year employment growth: 9.9%
  • 10-year employment growth: 20.8%

Texas has seen the highest rate of employment growth out of all the states. Unemployment is also mild, averaging 4.5% over the past five years and 5.88% over the past 10 years. And, the five-year labor force participation rate is a moderate 64.3%.

6. Massachusetts

  • 5-year employment growth: 12.6%
  • 10-year employment growth: 14.9%

Another state with double-digit employment growth, Massachusetts has 1.16 job openings for every job seeker. It also has a wide variety of different industries, despite its reputation for being a technology hub.

5. Idaho

  • 5-year employment growth: 13.9%
  • 10-year employment growth: 18.6%

In Idaho, unemployment has averaged just 3.8% over the last five years and 5.8% over the last 10 years. Plus, there are just 22,581 people in Idaho who are unemployed.

4. Minnesota

  • 5-year employment growth: 6.4%
  • 10-year employment growth: 9.4%

In Minnesota, there’s a job opening for every unemployed person, and underemployment is among the lowest of all the states. The 10-year labor force participation rate is over 70%, which is also one of the highest across America.

3. Utah

  • 5-year employment growth: 12.5%
  • 10-year employment growth: 17.4%

In Utah, just 3.4% of residents have been unemployed, on average, over the past five years. This statistic, combined with double-digit employment growth over the past 10 years, makes Utah a haven for job seekers.

2. New Hampshire

  • 5-year employment growth: 5.6%
  • 10-year employment growth: 5.1%

New Hampshire’s five- and 10-year employment growth rates are steady but not spectacular. However, unemployment is consistently low, averaging 3.2% over the past five years and 4.38% over the past 10 years. And, the ratio of job openings to unemployed residents in New Hampshire is 135.4%, meaning there are many more job openings than there are people looking for work.

1. Colorado

  • 5-year employment growth: 15.6%
  • 10-year employment growth: 17.2%

Colorado ranks as the best place to find a job. The Rocky Mountain State has experienced double-digit employment growth over the last 10 years. With a five-year average unemployment rate of 3.6%, finding a job in Colorado should be relatively easy.

Click through to see the best cities to score your dream job.

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