Unemployment rates in almost all states dropped in November, and 45 states had jobless rates lower than the year before, Labor Department data showed on Tuesday.
States followed the national trend -- the U.S. unemployment rate fell to a 2-1/2 year low of 8.6 percent in November -- with 43 states and the District of Columbia recording decreases from October.
"We've struggled for far too long but things are beginning to get back on track," said Governor John Kasich of Ohio, where the rate fell to 8.5 percent from 9 percent, the lowest in three years.
The drop was also Ohio's largest in nearly 30 years as the number of unemployed workers fell to 496,000 from 526,000 in October, according to the governor's office.
"Ohio employers have added more than 45,000 jobs so far this year, but too many Ohioans are still out of work and we have a lot of progress yet to make," Kasich added in a statement.
Nevada once again notched the highest jobless rate in the country at 13 percent, but that was a decline from October's 13.4 percent and last November's 14.9 percent.
California again was second to Nevada. Its rate of 11.3 percent was the lowest since May 2009, though, and was well below the previous month's 11.7 percent.
Some of the improvement in the U.S. unemployment rate was due to 315,00 people leaving the work force, the Labor Department reported earlier this month, but a poll of households also showed the country has created a total of 1.28 million jobs over the last four months.
The U.S. Congress is locked in a battle over extending long-term unemployment benefits that expire in less than two weeks. In order to qualify for benefits, recipients have to show they are actively looking for work, and that can have an impact on the labor force participation rates.
North Carolina netted 3,800 jobs in November, helping push its jobless rate down to 10 percent from 10.4 percent. The public sector dragged on improvements in the private sector, as the state lost 800 government jobs over the month and 11,200 since November 2011. Meanwhile, North Carolina's private sector added 4,600 jobs over the month and 30,800 over the year.
"The drop in the unemployment rate was significant," Dale Carroll, the state's Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary, said in a statement. "However, the focus must remain on growing jobs in our state. The private sector has experienced moderate growth over the past year."
The Labor Department said altogether 25 states had jobless rates significantly lower than the U.S. rate. Still, 15 states and Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia had rates of 9 percent or more in November.
Like Ohio, Michigan was hobbled by a downturn in manufacturing and the bursting housing bubble. But in November, Michigan registered the biggest monthly drop in its unemployment rate -- 0.8 percentage points to 9.8 percent. Four other states -- Alabama, Minnesota, South Carolina and Utah --had drops of 0.6 percentage points.
The jobless rate dropped to 3.4 percent from 3.5 percent in North Dakota, which has steadily held the lowest rate in the nation since the recession began four years ago. Nebraska was the second lowest at 4.1 percent, followed by South Dakota, 4.3 percent.
Commodity-rich North Dakota primarily benefited from a "very mild fall that has allowed outside projects to continue," Michael Ziesch, state labor market information manager, said in a statement.
Nonfarm payroll employment increased in 29 states and the District of Columbia in November, shrunk in 19 states and was unchanged in two states, the federal data showed.
The largest gain was in New York, with 29,500 jobs, followed by Texas, with 20,800.
The largest decreases were in Wisconsin, which lost 14,600 jobs and Minnesota, 13,700.
Over the year nonfarm employment increased in 45 states and the District of Columbia and dropped in five states.
(Reporting By Lisa Lambert; additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani in Washington, Karen Pierog in Chicago, and Michael Connor in Miami; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)