At the end of last year, the national unemployment rate stood at 4.9 percent, down 0.05 percent from a year earlier. A modest improvement, certainly, but it was not enjoyed equally across the nation. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment increased in 17 states.
Mississippi faced the largest increase, due mostly to the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. In August 2005, the state's unemployment rate sat at 7 percent. By the end of September, it had jumped to 9.8 percent. Louisiana experienced an even more drastic increase, with unemployment nearly doubling, from 6 percent in August to 11.4 percent in September, though it had dropped back to 6.4 percent by December.
Alabama and Florida had the greatest success driving unemployment down, despite their own hurricane woes. Alabama's rate of 3.5 percent is considered an historic low for the state. Michael Randle, editor of Southern Business & Development magazine, says the strong performance of the automotive and defense sectors and the government's ability to lure manufacturing deserve the credit.