WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In almost all U.S. states, jobless rates ended 2012 lower than where they began, according to Labor Department data released on Friday that also showed unemployment rates fell from November in less than half the states.
From December 2011, 42 states and the District of Columbia registered unemployment rate decreases from a year earlier while six states recorded increases, and two states had no change, according to the report.
Since November, though, 22 states recorded unemployment rate decreases, while 16 states and the District of Columbia registered increases and 12 states had no change.
The monthly changes were less uniform across the country, suggesting the speed of economic recovery varied geographically.
The national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in December, unchanged from November but down from 8.5 percent in December 2011.
North Dakota's rate ticked up from November to 3.2 percent, although the state continued to have the lowest unemployment rate in the nation due to the natural gas boom.
The rate was very close to that in December 2011, 3.3 percent, and, according to Michael Ziesch, co-manager of the state's Labor Market Information agency, "December rates have always posted an increase from (the) prior month as we see a normal increase in seasonal unemployment."
Nevada and Rhode Island held the highest unemployment rates in the country, 10.2 percent each in December, although both saw the rates drop from the month before. For Rhode Island, it was the lowest rate since March 2009.
Nevada had the biggest decline of all the states from November, when its rate was 10.8 percent, helped by growth in the state's large leisure and hospitality sector and by retail. Moreover, its rate in December was the lowest since February 2009.
"I'm pleased that we've ended the year on a positive note, with four straight months of decline in the unemployment rate and a gain of nearly 19,000 jobs in December compared to a year ago, but we have much more room for improvement," Governor Brian Sandoval said in a statement.
In December, Florida's rate was the lowest since November 2008, 8 percent, and nearly 2 percentage points below its rate in December 2011.
"Trends show that we are also experiencing growth in many different economic indicators that are key to job creation. Housing starts are on the rise, businesses and families continue to move to Florida and more jobs are being created," said Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a statement.
Cuts to local government staffs and construction crews in December were offset by a growing services sector, state data showed.
The trend will likely continue into 2013, with Standard & Poor's saying on Thursday it expects "total nonfarm employment growth to rise 1.6 percent in 2013," in the eastern Atlantic region, which includes Florida, due to increasing tourism.
When looking at nonfarm payroll employment, 27 states added jobs in December from November, while 23 lost jobs. New York's increase of 35,100 jobs was the greatest in the country, followed by New Jersey at 30,200. California shed the most the jobs, 17,500, followed by Florida, 15,300.
The large jumps in New York and New Jersey, and increases in neighboring Connecticut, likely showed the impact of Superstorm Sandy, according to analysts at J.P. Morgan. Employers likely cut jobs in November immediately after the storm, and then boosted their payrolls in December, they said.
"Today's release, beyond confirming that Sandy did some temporary damage to employment in New Jersey and New York, doesn't really provide any new information: the labor market continues its slow improvement along its all too familiar rocky road," said Philippa Dunne and Doug Henwood, who track states' economic conditions for The Liscio Report.