5. North Carolina (unemployment down 1.1 percent)
Unemployment in North Carolina has been above the national average (unlike Alaska's jobless rate), and was as high as 11.2 percent in February. But the latest dip in July brings the state's jobless rate to 9.8 percent, not far from parity with the overall national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent.
This state, and the rest of the top five, didn't get any amazing amount of government stimulus money from the Recovery Act. "We are seeing some renewed industrial activity" in the state and throughout the southern region, says Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, N.C.
He cites examples of factory expansion in aerospace, and some revival in the high-tech industry centered around the research triangle. But he cautions against reading too much optimism into the jobs picture for either North Carolina or for the US in general. In both cases, one key factor in declining unemployment has been people dropping out of the work force (often out of frustration) rather than finding new jobs.