States' Data Offers Gloomier View of U.S. Employment

By: Lisa Lambert

May 16, 2008

WASHINGTON - State-by-state employment figures released on Friday showed much deeper job losses last month than the U.S. government had reported, renewing concerns about the health of the economy.

State data showed the U.S. economy lost 151,000 jobs in April, raising speculation that the federal government will increase its estimate of payroll losses which it reported earlier this month as 20,000.

Economists said the discrepancy was not abnormal and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which released both reports, cautioned against reading too much into the state figures. It noted that totaling the figures from the states can distort the national picture.

"If one wants a clearer picture of what's going on at the national level, you have to look at the national report," a BLS official said.

Sparked by the state figures, speculation rippled through markets on Friday that the April jobs number will be revised lower in the government's next report on non-farm payrolls on June 6.

The April figures released earlier this month were less dire than many economists had expected, and a sharp downward revision would deflate some of the optimism about the resilience of the economy that stemmed from that report.

Alan Ruskin, an economist with RBS Global Banking and Markets, said differences stem from seasonal adjustments to the national data and state data, and do not mean an "inevitable downward revision."

The two sets of numbers often differ, and the average divergence since 1990 has been 93,000 jobs, said Michael Feroli, an economist at JPMorgan.

Still, the states' reports did not "suggest any improvement in our labor market," said economist Philippa Dunne of the Liscio Report, which tracks state trends.

When compared to March, state unemployment rates were little changed in April, according to the report.

While 28 states and the District of Columbia said their unemployment rates had decreased, 14 said the rates had increased and eight states said they had seen no change.

Michigan had the highest unemployment rate, 6.9 percent, while South Dakota and Wyoming were tied for the lowest at 2.6 percent.

Non-farm payroll employment rose in 10 states and in the District of Columbia, but decreased in 39 states, BLS said. The largest drop was in Florida, which lost 25,300 jobs -- the latest sign of how deeply the housing downturn has cut into the state's economy.

Texas led the country with 15,400 jobs gained over the month.

(Additional reporting by Joanne Morrison; Editing by Tom Hals)