Farm States Show Lowest Unemployment Rates in Nation
By Christopher J. Petherick
While those states with industrial- and service-based economies continue to take it on the chin following the collapse of the economy in the summer of 2007, the country’s chief farming states have largely remained resilient, buoyed by some of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States, according to new statistics released by the federal government.
The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that, nationally, U3, the official unemployment rate, remained unchanged for the past year, hovering at around 10 percent. The category U3 includes those who are unemployed but are still considered part of the workforce as they are actively looking for jobs. It does not include those whose hours have been cut or have given up altogether on finding work. On the other hand, U6, the broadest category of unemployment, has continued to creep up over the past year and currently stands at around 18 percent.
Meanwhile, North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Vermont and Utah have the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, coming in between 4 percent and 7 percent, Even considering the seasonal work that traditionally comes with farming—plowing, planting, cultivating and harvesting—these numbers are by far the lowest for the country.
And it’s not just during this past downturn, either. Historically, employment has remained relatively constant in the heartland as jobless figures in the other states went up and down like roller-coasters throughout the boom and bust cycles of the 1980s, ’90s and early 2000s.
In the Jan. 18 edition of AMERICAN FREE PRESS, AFP deputy editor Mark Anderson wrote that North Dakota attributes its rock-bottom unemployment rate, balanced budget and low taxes to growth in key economic sectors. More importantly, it is a net energy exporter, a key issue for many states struggling under the rising costs of energy.
Agriculture is important in North Dakota, too. As Anderson opined in his report: “Wealth is tied up in the land” in that state. Of course, the fact
that it maintains its own state-run bank certainly helps, too. The other states in the list also benefited from working the land: Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Vermont and Utah have survived on the type of hard-scrabble self-sufficiency that comes with a healthy agricultural industry, making these states relatively recession resistant.
The lower population density and established industry that come with farming have no doubt helped the situation. Also the fact that farmers are by nature conservative in business and recreation has served to keep them afloat in these tough times.
Even today, as American farmers increasingly face unfair competition from cheap, often-toxic Asian products, the relatively low unemployment in the corn and grain belts is common-sense, as food production is relatively inelastic by economic standards, meaning that it is a necessity for consumers, no matter the cost.
Contrast that with the casinos in Las Vegas or the top vacation spots in Florida, which have been hit the hardest by the economic downturn.
The metropolitan areas in these states have also fared better than those states dependent on factory work or service industries.
Iowa City, Iowa, for example has an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent. In Lincoln, Neb., it’s even lower, at 4.1 percent. Fargo, N.D., benefited from the lowest unemployment in the country at 4 percent. People are no doubt still suffering in the heartland, especially those in retail and service industries. And just because unemployment is low doesn’t mean that jobs abound in these towns.
According to published reports, the key cities in Iowa, like Ames and Iowa City, are not losing jobs, but they’re not necessarily creating them, either. “I don’t want to be flippant at all and say we’re not feeling it,” Wendy Ford, the economic development coordinator for Iowa City, told a wire service reporter. “There are hiring freezes . . . there are plenty of people struggling. We just have a little more insulation.”
Still, as the planting season begins again this spring across the heartland, there will undoubtedly be some new jobs available to those Americans who do not miss an opportunity, as Thomas Edison once famously quipped, “because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
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(Issue # 12, March 22, 2010)