Unemployment rates fall in half of U.S. states

WASHINGTON — Unemployment rates fell in half of U.S. states last month, a sign that September’s pickup in hiring was felt around the country.

The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates dropped in 25 states, rose in 14 and stayed the same in 11. That’s an improvement from August, when unemployment rose in 26 states.

Nevada reported the highest unemployment rate for the 16th straight month. It stayed at 13.4 percent for the second consecutive month. California was next. The rate there fell from 12.1 in August to 11.9 percent. Michigan had the third-highest rate, at 11.1 percent.

North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate, staying at 3.5 percent for the second straight month. Nebraska had the second lowest rate; it fell from 4.3 percent in August to 4.2 percent.

Nationwide, employers added 103,000 net jobs in September, nearly double the number created in August. And the number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to a six-month low, according to a four-week average calculated by the government. That has helped calm fears that the economy was sliding into another recession, as have other recent data.

Still, hiring remains sluggish. The national unemployment rate has been stuck near 9 percent for more than two years. Employers pulled back on hiring this spring after seeing less demand from consumers. Higher food and gas prices forced consumers to rein in spending.

Employers have added an average of only 72,000 jobs per month in the past five months. That’s down from an average of 180,000 in the first four months of this year and far from what is needed to lower the unemployment rate.

In September, 24 states added jobs and one state saw no net change in hiring. The other half of U.S. states lost jobs. That’s better than August, when 30 states lost jobs.

Florida, which has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation since the recession ended, added 23,300 jobs last month, the biggest gain. The Sunshine State added jobs in education and health care, at hotels and restaurants and in recreation.

Texas created 15,400 jobs, second most among states in September. New positions included jobs in construction and professional and business services, which include accounting, engineering and temporary jobs, among others.

Louisiana added 14,100 jobs, third best.

North Carolina led the nation in jobs lost. It shed 22,200 positions. Most were in government, particularly public education.

Americans are pessimistic about the economy, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. And more than half say President Barack Obama does not inspire confidence about a recovery.

A sizable majority — more than 7 in 10 — believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, the poll found. And 43 percent describe the nation’s economy as “very poor,” a new high. Among those surveyed, less than 40 percent say Obama’s proposed remedies for high unemployment would increase jobs significantly.

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