Breaking down employment activity in August by region, some areas of the U.S. saw hiring improve despite the national downturn. The Midwest in particular posted an impressive performance, gaining more than 4% in the month to reach in Index score of 106.4. The home of the Rust Belt finished last in the nation for employment activity as recently as July of last year, but now trails the strongest region, the Northeast, by just 2.4 points. In contrast, after finishing in a virtual tie for second place last month, the Southeast lost more ground than any other region in August, slipping nearly 5% to finish fourth overall, and just a few points above the perennially poor-performing West.
In July, employment activity returned to pre-recession levels in every U.S. region, with the exception of the West. But in August, a number of those gains have been lost. While the Southeast was the only region to drop back below an Index score of 100, the Northeast lost ground as well. And after experiencing an 11% gain in July to pull within just 12 points of the 100-point threshold, employment activity in the West fell again in August, dropping 4.3 points to an Index score of 84.3. At this rate, the West could remain stuck behind the rest of the country for the rest of 2010, and possibly into 2011 as well.
Looking back over the past 24 months, regional employment is in a very similar position to where it was in August of 2008, before the Great Recession began. Notable exceptions include the West, which at the time was in second place with an Index score of 109.4, and the Midwest, which finished in fourth place during that month. But while this would indicate that hiring has stabilized after a difficult 22-month period, the steep losses sustained between September 2008 and February 2010 have left millions out of work, and hiring will need to significantly outperform even peak 2008 levels before unemployment begins to decline.