Jobless rates in 20 states top national rate in August

WASHINGTON Fri Sep 16, 2011 2:19pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jobless rates in 20 states were above the national rate of 9.1 percent in August, with Nevada's level springing up to 13.4 percent, the Labor Department said on Friday.

Nevada's rate, the highest in the nation, rose from 12.9 percent in July. That was still lower than the peak of 14.9 percent it reached in April 2010 and maintained through December 2010.

Altogether, unemployment rates rose in more than half the states, 26, and the District of Columbia, from July, the Labor Department said. They were stagnant in many places, with 12 states reporting no change in their rates and another 12 reporting drops.

As the jobs market languishes, President Barack Obama is promoting an amalgam of proposed infrastructure and schools spending measures along with a jobs training program and series of tax breaks in a $447 billion stimulus plan.

With the U.S. unemployment rate stuck above 9 percent, jobs are at the top of the agenda for most federal and elected leaders as the 2012 election season gets going.

"It is difficult for any state economy to establish positive momentum while the nation's jobs growth picture remains sluggish," Jay Rowell, director of the Illinois Employment Department, said in a statement.

The jobless rate in Illinois was 9.9 percent in August.

Under the plan, the American Jobs Act, the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates could receive up to $35.4 billion in formula and competitive grants to repair roads and public transit, hire teachers and emergency personnel, refurbish houses, and modernize community colleges.

Nevada would qualify for up to $1.3 billion if it received all competitive grant money that would be available to it, along with funds to be distributed among the states by formula. A Reuters analysis finds the White House estimates 13,500 jobs in the state would be supported by the formula grants.

The other measures -- extending unemployment insurance, reforming jobless benefits, creating training for low-income youths and adults -- would affect 35,288 Nevadans.

Hit hard by the housing bust, Nevada has had the highest unemployment rate in the nation for more than a year. California is consistently second highest, and in August its rate rose to 12.1 percent from 12 percent in July.

For most of the recession, Michigan had the highest jobless rates. As the U.S. auto industry recovers, so too has the state. Still, its rate rose to 11.2 percent in August from 10.9 percent in July.

"With the recent slowdown in the national economy, Michigan's unemployment rate has edged upward since April, but still remains below 2010 levels," said Rick Waclawek, director of the state's labor bureau, in a statement.

According to the Labor Department, Washington, D.C., South Carolina, Florida, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia round out the top 10 of highest jobless rates, all of which are above 10 percent.

North Dakota continued in August to have the lowest unemployment rate, 3.5 percent, followed again by Nebraska and South Dakota, 4.7 percent. They were the only states in the nation to have jobless rates of less than 5 percent.

(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago and Michael Connor in Miami; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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