The State of Unemployment 2021 - Zupnick Associates

(By Louis Toffoli

We enter 2021 with a bruised and battered U.S economy caught unprepared by the COVID-19 pandemic. At its current state, the national United States unemployment rate has sat at a steady 6.7% since November 2020. 

While the national unemployment rate currently sits at 6.7%, this number is not a universal number for all industries or states. Some industries have thrived during this period, while others are in dire need of help. 

In this article, we will be exploring U.S unemployment in 2021, and what employment looks like in various industries and states. 

Unemployment Rates in Different States

With each state having different approaches to lockdowns and regulations, there is a significant difference between unemployment rates. In a data table published by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most recent unemployment statistics available shows a large discrepancy between states. 

At the lowest on the list, Nebraska has a state unemployment rate of 3.1%. Paired with limited lockdown orders and a large focus on the healthcare and agricultural industry, Nebraska has been able to bear the burden of the pandemic better than others. 

Some of the other states that fit a close resemblance of Nebraska are: 

  • South Dakota (3.5%)
  • Iowa (3.6%)
  • Utah (4.3%)
  • Alabama (4.4%)

On the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey has the highest unemployment rate of any state, with 10.2% of its residents unemployed. When looking at the protocols made by New Jersey to fight the spread of the virus, they took a very aggressive approach. 

Many key industries to New Jersey, such as the leisure and service industries, needed to close their doors after stay-at-home orders were in place. The lockdown orders contributed a lot to the higher unemployment rate. 

When looking at states with similar traits to New Jersey, each has similar unemployment numbers, such as: 

  • New York (8.4%)
  • Connecticut (8.2%) 
  • California (8.2%)
  • Arizona (7.5%) 

You may have noticed the common theme among the higher unemployment rate states having a larger metropolitan presence. This is no coincidence, as many of these states thrive on service industries like restaurants and hotels. 

These states also have some of the highest COVID-19 cases, leading to many cities being on strict lockdown orders. Unfortunately, this has left many unemployed, but this isn’t the case for every industry. 

Unemployment Rate by Industry 

As we hinted in the last section, each state’s key industries make a significant impact on the unemployment numbers. But, what do the overall unemployment rate numbers look like nationally by industry? 

In a survey conducted by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry with the most considerable rise in unemployment was leisure and hospitality. From an unemployment rate of 5% in 2019, the unemployment rate rose to 16.7% in December 2020.

Many of these critical jobs in restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels are struggling to stay afloat with a lack of guests. Some other notable industries significantly impacted are: 

  • Mining and Oil Extraction (3.8% to 13.1%) 
  • Transportation (2.6% to 8.4%) 
  • Construction (5% to 9.6%) 

However, while most industries saw a drastic increase in unemployment, a few industries saw little to no change. With no need for explanation, healthcare was one of the least affected industries in unemployment numbers.

The national unemployment rate for healthcare workers rose only 0.8% and was at 1.9% at the end of 2020. Out of the entire healthcare industry, hospital workers were the least likely to be unemployed. 

Additionally, two industries saw a decrease in unemployment, which were wood manufacturing and rubber manufacturing jobs. Both of these industries are thriving due to overseas manufacturing slowing down because of the pandemic. 


With a national unemployment rate of 6.7%, the United States is struggling after reaching record low unemployment rates in 2019. Each state has taken a different approach to this pandemic, creating varying unemployment levels across the country. 

Those in mostly rural states see a reduced unemployment rate as COVID cases aren’t high, and the key industries are still intact. States with metropolitan areas are seeing high unemployment levels as the leisure and hospitality industry is the most impacted.

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