WASHINGTON Employment steadily improved in most states in March, and jobless rates dipped in states that had posted record highs just a few months ago, according to government data released on Tuesday.
Unemployment rates fell in 34 states in March from February. Only seven states saw rates rise, while rates in nine states and the District of Columbia were unchanged, a Labor Department report showed.
Compared with a year ago, jobless rates fell in 44 states and the District of Columbia.
Nevada again notched the highest rate, marking at least 10 months in a row when it has registered the worst unemployment conditions. But it continued to back off its record 14.5 percent jobless rate hit in December, dropping to 13.2 percent in March.
California, with an unemployment rate of 12 percent, and Florida, at 11.1 percent, followed, though those March rates also showed declines.
Michigan, which stood out during most of the 2007-2009 recession with the country's highest jobless rate as the automotive industry cratered, has started to show signs of a revival.
In March, its jobless rate showed the biggest decline from a year earlier, falling by 1/10th of a percentage point to 10.3 percent. In March 2009, the rate stood at 13.3 percent.
Total employment in Michigan increased by 11,000 in March, while unemployment declined by 7,000, said Rick Waclawek, director of Michigan's Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. "Michigan's labor market indicators have shown steady improvement in the first three months of 2011," said Waclawek in a statement. "Compared to this time last year, the state's jobless rate has fallen significantly while private sector payroll jobs have increased by 98,000 or 3.1 percent."
The recession only spared a few states, but the recovery has been uneven. Many states that were hardest-hit by the housing collapse have taken the longest to come back.
For Georgia, the March jobs numbers show that economic recovery may have taken root, with the jobless rate in March down to 10 percent.
"The drop in the unemployment rate is encouraging, but I'm more pleased that we've now had two consecutive months of job growth, coupled with fewer layoffs," said State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler in a statement. "It appears that employers are growing more confident that our economy is improving."
Commodities rich states, which were last to enter the recession and first out, remained standouts. North Dakota held the lowest jobless rate in March, at 3.6 percent, followed by Nebraska, at 4.2 percent, and South Dakota, at 4.9 percent.
"North Dakota's unemployment rate continues to post at less than half the nation," said Michael Ziesch, research analyst for the state's job service. "Labor market gains are spread out amongst almost all sectors of the state's economy, and led by strength in agriculture and energy."
The U.S. unemployment rate was 8.8 percent in March, and the Labor Department said 22 states "posted jobless rates significantly lower than that."
The number of jobs also rose in many places. Altogether, nonfarm payroll employment increased in 38 states and decreased in 12 states and the District of Columbia in March. Texas added the most jobs, 37,000, followed by Missouri with 24,300.
(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago and Michael Connor in Miami; editing by Leslie Adler)