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It will take a long time to get out of this economic chaos, but we are making progress: the economy has created more than 10 million jobs since the end of April, and the unemployment rate has fallen from its high of 14.7% to 8.4%.
But this national recovery is uneven. In some states, employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, while others are at levels of mass unemployment that surpassed the great 2007-09 recession.
When the pandemic broke out, the unemployment rate in Nebraska rose from 4% in March to 8.7% in April. But the state's almost fully reopened economy has contributed to the unemployment rate dropping back to 4% from August.
The picture in New York, the epicenter of the spring pandemic, is far less rosy. The unemployment rate rose from 4.1% in March to a staggering 15.3% in April. Since then, it has improved to 12.5% in August – a number that is still above the US unemployment rate of 8.9% during the Great Recession era.
How can a New Yorker be three times more likely to be unemployed than a Nebraskan?
States like Nebraska, which are more rural and not as badly hit by the pandemic, have reopened almost entirely. Earlier this month, Nebraska allowed 100% reopening of outdoor gatherings, including sports stadiums and fairgrounds. And places like bars and tattoo parlors reopened weeks ago.
Northeastern states like New Jersey, New York and Connecticut were badly hit by the virus in the spring and are reopening stores at much slower rates. Case in point: indoor dining in New York City doesn't start until September 30th, and that at just 25% capacity. This cautious approach explains why New York's unemployment rate remains high.
While New York leads the nation with 33,092 deaths lost to the pandemic, the number of cases and deaths are falling, according to Johns Hopkins University. Only 0.9% of COVID-19 tests in New York are positive, compared with over 50% at a point in April. Nebraska has far fewer COVID-19 deaths (452), but its positive rate is 12.6% – which is above the 10% threshold that adds inbound travelers to New York's 14-day quarantine.
Unemployment in New York is also increased by the great focus on leisure and hospitality. This sector has been battered by the pandemic and has not yet recovered. In New York City alone, recreational and hospitality jobs are still down 48%. And that's why unemployment is still so high in California (11.4%), Hawaii (12.5%), and Nevada (13.2%).
While Florida also has a massive tourism industry, the unemployment rate is just 7.4% in August, which can lead to a more aggressive reopening plan than states like Nevada or New York.
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