WASHINGTON – The unemployment rate fell in two-thirds of U.S. states last month, evidence that modest economic growth is boosting hiring in most areas of the country.
And in many states, unemployment has fallen well below the national average, which was 8.1 percent last month. The rate was under 7 percent in 22 states in April. That compares with only 13 states in April 2011.
The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate dropped in 37 states in April, the most in three months. Unemployment rose in 5 states and was unchanged in eight.
Nationally, the unemployment rate has fallen a full percentage point since August. Employers have added a million jobs over the past five months, though the pace of hiring slowed in March and April.
The national rate has also declined because some people gave up looking for work. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively looking for a job.
The states with the lowest unemployment continue to be in the upper Midwest with small populations. North Dakota's rate was 3 percent in April, the lowest in the country. It was followed by Nebraska at 3.9 percent and South Dakota at 4.3 percent.
Still, unemployment is also relatively low in some large states, such as Minnesota and Virginia. Both had a 5.6 percent unemployment rate in April.
The rate has fallen by a full percentage in Minnesota during past 12 months. In Virginia, it has dropped half a point in that timeframe.
Texas, the nation's second-largest state, also has low unemployment. The rate dropped to 6.9 percent last month, down from 8 percent a year ago. Texas has added almost 250,000 jobs in the past year, the most in the nation.
The rate was 5 percent in Oklahoma, 5.1 percent in Iowa, 5 percent in New Hampshire, and 6.3 percent in Massachusetts.
Many of those states have seen job gains. Iowa added 5,800 jobs in April, while Nebraska gained 3,800. Indiana added the most jobs of any state last month, with 17,100.
Overall, 32 states added jobs in April, the department said.
Still, other states continue to struggle.
Nevada reported the highest unemployment rate in the nation, at 11.7 percent. Rhode Island was next at 11.2 percent, followed by California at 10.9 percent.