Looking at regional disparities in unemployment rates (or: why are things so bad in the South?)

Unemployment data is really slippery, and I’ll post something on Sunday as a follow up to a portion of my SMN column in which I mention some of the political sleight of hand of blaming seasonal factors for numbers that have already been seasonally adjusted.

But here’s an interesting map of unemployment rates posted at the NYT’s Economix blog by Catherine Rampell along with her post The North Dakota Miracle. I’ve never used IBM’s Many Eyes visualizations before, but it’s sort of cool. You can upload a custom data set and then have it presented in a variety of ways.

So first is the interactive graphic. You might have to click on the whole graphic and then click again on “Unemployment Rate, July 2011” to get the functions to work.

Using the commands on that graphic, here are the states with 10% or higher unemployment in July:

And here are the states with unemployment rates of 8-10% in July:

It sure seems like a clear — if noisy — pattern at this point two years after the official end of the recession. States that got most caught up in the housing bubble are in far worse shape than states in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, and the Great Plains.

With federal stimulus spending unwinding, where is the South headed? We hear endless hype about business friendliness and low regulation, but the entire region is faced with a jobs crisis. Georgia actually lost jobs between July 2010 and July 2011 — a really grim data point. It looks increasingly likely that southern states will continue to make cuts to education and to public infrastructure spending. Three of those southern states — Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida — are going to be fighting to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to expand ports to accommodate larger ships after the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2014, but I haven’t seen any compelling evidence that the increased efficiency will increase jobs. The Corps of Engineers expects the Port of Savannah capacity to max out in 2032 with or without dredging.

I’m not very good at jumping up and down and screaming and waving the red flag, but all the employment trends in the South are alarming — and may be poised to get much more alarming with the recent economic slowdown.