By Martin Crutsinger & Mike Schneider, Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) — Manufacturing job gains in the Midwest helped lower the nation's economic stress in April to its lowest point in five months, according to The Associated Press' monthly analysis of conditions around the country.
Contributing to the improvement were lower foreclosure rates in two states with beaten-down housing markets: California and Florida.
Economic stress levels dipped in every state except Louisiana and Nevada in April. They also declined in more than 90% of the nation's 3,141 counties, according to AP's Economic Stress Index.
Only 42% of counties were deemed stressed in April, compared with half in March. The AP's index found the average county's Stress score in April was 10.6, down from 11.5 in March. It was the lowest score since November's rating of 10.2.
The index calculates a score for each county and state from 1 to 100 based on unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates. A higher score indicates more stress. Under a rough rule of thumb, a county is considered stressed when its score exceeds 11.
States with manufacturing bases like Wisconsin are enjoying a slow but steady recovery. Factory jobs are returning. Of the roughly 30,000 jobs created in Wisconsin since December, about 10,000 are in manufacturing, said John Koskinen, the state's chief economist.
"The mood is something like, 'Whew,'" Koskinen said. "After sweating the downturn and the decline in employment for so long, to see this turnaround is such a relief."
Wisconsin (10.48), Missouri (10.62) and South Carolina (11.78) saw the most month-over-month economic improvement from March to April.
North Dakota (4.53) again led the nation in economic health, as it has since the AP began publishing the Stress Index in May 2009. It was followed by South Dakota (5.2), Nebraska (6.11), Vermont (7.28) and Louisiana (7.23).
Nevada remained the most economically stressed state. It suffered the biggest increases in foreclosures and unemployment in April. And it absorbed an increase in bankruptcy filings. Nevada had a Stress score of 21.97. It was followed by Michigan (17.06), California (16.56), Florida (15.33) and Arizona (14.71).