The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Unemployment rates fall below 6 per cent in half of US states as hiring picks up

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WASHINGTON - Unemployment rates fell in nearly all U.S. states last month, and half the states now have rates below 6 per cent. The figures are a sign of widespread, if slow, improvement in the nation's job market.

Unemployment rates fell in 43 states in April, the Labor Department said Friday, rose in two states and were unchanged in five.

Hiring is picking up as well. Employers added jobs in 39 states, while 10 states posted job losses. Nebraska reported no change.

Twenty-five states now have unemployment rates of 5.9 per cent or lower. The Federal Reserve considers "full employment" to be between 5.2 per cent and 5.6 per cent. Rates at that level are considered "full employment" because if they fell lower, inflation could rise. But the relationship isn't exact. The national rate fell to 3.9 per cent in late 2000 without causing a spike in prices.

Hiring wasn't the whole reason rates fell in many states: Fewer Americans also looked for work. The government doesn't count those out of work as unemployed unless they are actively hunting for jobs.

Many of the states with low unemployment are small. North Dakota continues to have the lowest rate nationwide at 2.6 per cent. That's the same as the previous month and down from 3 per cent a year ago. Vermont's rate of 3.3 per cent is the next lowest.

But some larger states are also seeing improvement. Texas' unemployment rate fell to 5.2 per cent in April from 5.5 per cent in March. Employers added 64,100 jobs last month, the most of any state.

The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania, the nation's sixth-largest state by population, declined to 5.7 per cent from 6 per cent as the state gained nearly 11,000 jobs. Ohio, the seventh-largest, saw a similar improvement. Its rate fell to 5.7 per cent from 6.1 per cent, with employers creating 12,600 new jobs.

Nationally, businesses and government agencies added 288,000 new positions in April, the biggest burst of hiring in 2 1/2 years. The unemployment rate fell to 6.3 per cent from 6.7 per cent.

Rhode Island reported the highest unemployment rate at 8.3 per cent, followed by Nevada at 8 per cent. Both states saw significant improvement, with Rhode Island's rate falling from 8.7 per cent and Nevada's from 8.5 per cent.

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