Unemployment flat or lower in most U.S. states; recovery patchy

NEW YORK, March 29 Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:29am EDT

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NEW YORK, March 29 (Reuters) - Unemployment rates in most U.S. states in February were flat to somewhat lower compared with January, according to Labor Department data released on Friday.

But the range of figures and the regional differences underscored the patchiness of the recovery in the world's biggest economy, with commodities-rich states outstripping those where housing markets were hardest hit.

Twenty-two states had unemployment rate decreases, 12 states had increases, and 16 states and the District of Columbia had no change, the department said.

From a year ago, though, unemployment shrank more clearly, with 37 states and the District of Columbia posting rate decreases.

While the 2007-09 recession spared few states, those rich in oil, natural gas and commodities pulled ahead in recovering. States where housing had been the major source of jobs limped along more slowly.

For example, North Dakota again notched the lowest jobless rate, at 3.3 percent. A natural gas boom in that state has boosted hiring across a range of sectors, including construction, with builders struggling to keep up with demand.

In contrast, posting the highest unemployment rates were California, Mississippi, and Nevada, all at 9.6 percent.

California and Nevada were among the states hit hardest by the mortgage meltdown. While data suggest the national housing recovery has been gaining steam recently, average home prices are still at autumn 2003 levels, down about 30 percent from the 2006 peak.

In terms of payroll employment, 42 states saw gains. The biggest increase in employment for the month came in Texas, with 80,600, while Connecticut posted the biggest loss, at 5,700.

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