The nation's unemployment rate has been trending gradually downward, as public payrolls decline but private payrolls rise to pick up the slack. But among coastal states, there continues to be a wide spread in the unemployment rates, with some regions improving as other regions continue to struggle. And to complicate matters further, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has just made a correction to its figures based on newly available U.S. Census data, introducing some confusion into the public's mind about what the numbers really mean. Google provides an easy-to-use set of interactive charts depicting the Labor Department's unemployment data in graphic form. Below is a snapshot of national unemployment rates from November, 2011 viewed as a state-by-state bar chart, with coastal states highlighted (click the image to go to the interactive Google page). And here is a line chart showing coastal state unemployment trends since 2002. Again, click the image to go to the Google page, where you can highlight different states or change the time frame of the graph. From the high-unemployment states such as Rhode Island or Mississippi, down to low-unemployment New Hampshire (which is mostly landlocked and extends inland as far as Canada, with only a short coastline), the graphs show a wide spread. Various local and state factors may account for the disparity €” New Hampshire and Maine, for example, benefit from proximity to a relatively active economy in the Boston metropolitan area, which has a better jobs picture than the rest of Massachusetts. New York's numbers are affected by New York City's status as the center of the national financial system and the city's importance in international shipping. But New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, for example, appear to have not caught onto the coattails of either Boston or New York. Local reporting from coastal states highlights the mixed picture. The Gulf Coast is seeing some improvement, reports the Mobile Press-Register (" Gulf Coast employment picture starting to brighten after a few dark years ,"by Katja Wilkinson). "Unemployment rates in south Alabama in December fell below the national average for the first time since 2009. Mobile County's unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, down from 9.1 percent in November and 9.7 percent in November 2010,"the paper reports. While the loss of a major defense contract a few years ago disappointed Alabama boosters, continuing expansion on a smaller scale by a variety of industrial employers has brightened the local picture in the past year. Farther down the gulf, the South Texas coast is also showing signs of improvement, Corpus Christie television station KRIS-TV notes (" Coastal Bend Unemployment Lowest In Nearly 3 Years ,"by Bart Bedsole). "Employment in trade, transportation, utilities, and leisure and hospitality continues to increase, while government jobs continue to decline,"the station reports. But on the Atlantic coast, North Carolina is seeing a weaker situation, reports Carolina News14 (" Unemployment rate increases in most NC coastal counties "). "Graham County has the highest unemployment in the state at 17.5 percent, that's up more than 2 percent from the previous month. New Hanover County's rate was one of the lowest at 9.7 percent, which was up .4 from November. Brunswick County's rate was 11.9, up more than 1 percent from last month and Pender County was one of the exceptions. Its rate dropped a .1 to 11.5 percent,"the station reported. As hard times drag on, unemployment insurance expenses are weighing on state budgets. In South Carolina, that's triggering a push by lawmakers for tougher scrutiny of the laid-off workers who receive the benefits, according to a report in the Columbia State (" Bills target the unemployed ,"by Gina Smith). Two measures advancing in the state legislature would require unemployed people to undergo drug testing in order to collect benefits, while another bill would make benefits conditional on volunteer work in the community. Meanwhile, a minor modification in the statistical background of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports on employment levels and the unemployment rate has set off speculation that the U.S. government may be cooking the books for political reasons. Dr. Joe Webb has an informative post about the adjustment and its implications at his "What They Think"blog (" Unemployment Rate Drops, Conspiracy Theories Rise, Economy Improves ."by Dr. Joe Webb). "The first thing that happened statistically was that [the revised Census estimates] added 300,000 more workers to the household survey, which reduced the unemployment rate more than would have occurred "naturally."Second, it reduced the labor participation rate from 64% to 63.7%. This meant that all along the BLS was undercounting both the number of jobs holders and undercounting the number of people not working at the same time.€ Webb comments, "The entire process is a reminder that statistical precision is often elusive, the application of statistical concepts is more art than science, and that data series like the unemployment data are best viewed over time, not as a single event.€ Gallup organization's national unemployment estimates from 2010 to the present €” estimates based on Gallup's own 30-day rolling average of a 30,000-person polling sample, not on government data. The general trend is down, the chart indicates €” but slowly, and in fits and starts. Joe Webb observes, "We know that there is no sign of an economic boom, just some positive economic activity that is barely above muddling by.€ Statistics and figures, of course, can be put to all sorts of purposes. A case in point: it turns out that unemployment figures are linked to Super Bowl outcomes €” statistically, at least. But even though the relationship is clear, predictions remain risky. Before last Sunday's game, the Quincy, Mass., Patriot-Ledger reported that San Jose, Calif., think tank RiseSmart, Inc., had analyzed 20 years of data and discovered that the winner of the Super Bowl had been the team whose city had the lowest unemployment rate €” 17 times out of 20 (" The New England Patriots are sure winners Sunday if our lower unemployment rate is any indication ,"by Joe Chesto). The Patriot-Ledger had the sense to hedge its bets, however, noting, "Of course, a statistician would remind us at this point that correlation and causation are two entirely separate things."Hindsight, as we know, is 20-20. As of Monday, RiseSmart had yet to provide any explanation for the anomalous Giants victory.