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WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) - Almost all U.S. states began 2013 with lower unemployment rates than they had at the start of 2012, according to Labor Department data released on Monday that showed jobless rates rose in only seven states from January to January.
Three states started 2013 with the same jobless rates as they had in January 2012 - New York at 8.4 percent, South Carolina at 4.4 percent and West Virginia at 7 percent.
Nevada registered the biggest drop, to 9.7 percent in January 2013 from 12 percent in January 2012.
The biggest increase in joblessness over the year was in Pennsylvania, where the rate rose to 8.2 percent from 7.6 percent in January 2012. New Hampshire's rate followed, increasing to 5.8 percent from 5.3 percent. New Jersey, Washington, North Dakota, Delaware, and Indiana also registered increases over the year.
In terms of payrolls, 48 states added jobs, while the District of Columbia and two other states - Maine and Virginia - lost them over the year. Texas had the biggest increase, 310,900 jobs, followed by California, 254,900.
Unlike previous downturns, the 2007-09 recession was fairly uniform, sparing only a few states. The recovery, though, began unevenly, with states rich in oil, natural gas and commodities pulling ahead and those where housing had been the major source of jobs limping for years after the real estate market collapsed. In 2012, though, manufacturing and technology helped more states improve.
In January 2013, California and Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate, both 9.8 percent. North Dakota again had the lowest, 3.3 percent, a position it has occupied since the start of the recession.
When compared to December, jobless rates dropped in eight states, remained the same in 17 and rose in 25 along with the District of Columbia.
In 34 states and the District of Columbia, payroll employment rose from December, while in 16 states it dropped.