The BLS keeps track of the historical high unemployment rate in each of the 50 states (and D.C.) and the historical low unemployment rate (back to 1976). As much as we hear about the "Worst Economy Since the Great Depression©," wouldn't you think that many states should be setting record high jobless rates? Well, that's not the case at all - most states are still nowhere close to their record high unemployment rates of the 1970s and 1980s.
Based on data through 2008, there is one state, Rhode Island, that just set a new record high for unemployment in December 2008 of 10% (see chart above). As high as Michigan's December 2008 jobless rate was (10.6%), it's still pretty far away from the record 16.2% in November 1982. Twelve other states set their highest unemployment rates back in 1982, second only to 1983, a year when 23 states experienced their highest jobless rate in recent history (see chart above). Six states saw the highest jobless rate in 1976, three in 1977, etc.
We will certainly see future increases in state jobless rates, but most states are not even close yet to their record historical high jobless rates. For example, W. Virginia at a 4.9% jobless rate in December 2008, is 13.5% below the historical high of 18.2% set in 1983, and Alabama's 6.6% rate is 7.7% below its historical high of 14.4% in 1982. For the 50 states and D.C., the average December 2008 jobless rate was 6.7%, which is 3.8% below the average state record high of 10.5%. We've still got a long, long way to go before we even come close to the record high unemployment rates of the 1970s and 1980s.