WASHINGTON — The unemployment rate fell or held steady in 40 states in January, the latest sign that hiring is strengthening throughout the country.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the unemployment rate fell in 24 states, the most in seven months, and remained the same in 16. The unemployment rate rose in only 10 states. In December, the rate fell in 15 states and rose in 20.
Employers added to their payrolls in 35 states in January, up from only 15 in the previous month. That's the most to report higher payrolls since October.
Nationwide, employers added 63,000 net jobs in January, and the unemployment rate fell sharply to 9 percent from 9.4 percent. The rate ticked down last month to 8.9 percent and employers added 192,000 net jobs, the most in nearly a year.
Several states that were hit hard during the recession, including Michigan and California, showed signs of improving.
Three of the five states with the largest job gains were in the Midwest. Michigan added a net total of 39,700 jobs, the second-largest gain among states. Ohio was third with 31,900 net new jobs. Illinois was fourth with 24,500.
Texas added the most jobs, with 44,100. California rounded out the top five, with 22,600 new jobs.
The Midwest also saw the biggest drop in unemployment among the four regions, falling to 8.5 percent from 8.7 percent. The unemployment rate in the South ticked down to 9.2 percent from 9.3 percent. In the West, the rate edged down to 10.9 percent from 11 percent. The Northeast's rate was unchanged at 8.4 percent.
Georgia lost 15,300 net jobs – the most of any state. It was followed by New Jersey, Florida, South Carolina and Maryland.
Meanwhile, Nevada's unemployment rate fell to 14.2 percent from 14.9 percent. It was the biggest drop among states, but it remains the highest unemployment rate in the country. California was next, with 12.4 percent unemployment, followed by Florida at 11.9 percent.
The drop in Nevada's unemployment rate was mostly because more than 10,000 of the unemployed gave up on their job searches in January, according the state's employment agency. If the unemployed stop looking for work, they are no longer counted in the unemployment rate.
North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate, at 3.8 percent, followed by Nebraska and South Dakota.
While private employers are adding jobs, state and local governments are laying off workers as they struggle to close large budget gaps. That's lowering overall job creation and making it harder for the unemployment rate to come down.
In January, state and local governments shed a net total of 8,000 jobs, a figure that jumped to 30,000 last month. Government employment declined in 27 states. Some of the biggest cuts were in New Jersey and Wisconsin, where GOP governors have waged high-profile battles to cut government spending and reduce public employee benefits.
State and local government payrolls fell by 6,400 in January in New Jersey, and by 3,600 in Wisconsin.