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Unemployment rates drop in most states, Illinois climbs

Job seekers stand in line to meet with prospective employers at a career fair in New York City, October 24, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Job seekers stand in line to meet with prospective employers at a career fair in New York City, October 24, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Unemployment rates dropped in 43 out of the 50 U.S. states and in the District of Columbia in April from a year before, according to Labor Department data released on Friday.

A handful of states, including Illinois, Delaware, Indiana, Wisconsin, Mississippi and New Hampshire saw their jobless rates rise over the year. Illinois' rate fell in April to 9.3 percent from 9.5 percent in March but rose from 8.8 percent a year before.

"April data reflects the unevenness of this recovery," said the director of the Illinois employment department, Jay Rowell, in a statement. "This uneven path forward likely will continue until consumer and business confidence can be sustained at the national level."

Even though Nevada registered the largest rate drop of all the states over the year, it still had the highest unemployment rate in the country at 9.6 percent in April. The state, which reaped economic fortune during the housing boom, saw its rate spike to 14 percent in September 2010, the highest on records going back to 1976, and then steadily drop.

After Nevada the next higher rates were Illinois, Mississippi and California. In California, where the economy is on the mend, the state unemployment rate continued its decline falling to 9 percent from 9.4 percent in March - a record low since December 2011.

North Dakota's unemployment rate, the lowest in country for half a decade, inched up to 3.3 percent. The state is in the grips of a commodities boom, with North Dakota's 28,600 mining and logging jobs in April 321 percent more than five years before.

Still, it was one of seven states where the jobless rate rose over the year. In April 2012, North Dakota's jobless rate was 3 percent, and in March it was 3.2 percent. The increase may be due to its swelling labor force, which also grew since April 2012.

Seasonal factors could also be in play, according to Michael Ziesch, a manager of labor market information for the state, who noted "April rates have historically always posted a decrease from prior month, this year was no exception."

"Current period rates are slightly higher than a year ago and reflect longer winter type weather in the period that delayed many outside projects," he added.

From March, unemployment rates fell in 40 states and Washington, D.C., and were unchanged in seven. Rates rose in two other states besides North Dakota: Louisiana and Tennessee.

On Friday, President Barack Obama visited Maryland in a campaign-style stop on his "Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour," and was set to appear at a local manufacturer to promote job creation and education.

Situated close to the nation's capital, Maryland is home to federal contractors and employees, and also has a burgeoning technology corridor. Some had warned that its employment would shrink once the across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration took effect on March 1.

In April, its unemployment rate fell to 6.5 percent from 6.8 percent a year earlier, the lowest in more than four years, according to Governor Martin O'Malley. Over the last 12 months, 34,600 jobs have been added to payrolls in the state, as well.

Neighboring Virginia, which has also prospered from a strong federal workforce, had an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, also the lowest in more than four years.

At the national level, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to the lowest since December 2008 in April, 7.5 percent, while nonfarm payrolls rose, according to a report released earlier this month.

Over the year, payrolls grew in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Since March, employment increased in 30 states, decreased in 18 and the District of Columbia, and was the same in two.

Texas gained the most jobs over the month, 33,100, followed by New York, 25,300 and Florida, 17,000. Wisconsin lost the most jobs from March at 24,100 followed by Minnesota at 11,400.

At one point during the recession, Michigan's employment conditions were the worst in the nation with the struggling automobile companies that have long anchored its economy laying off hundreds of thousands of people. In April, its unemployment fell to 8.4 percent from 8.5 percent in March and 9.1 percent the year before.

"Michigan labor market indicators were relatively unchanged in April," said Michael Williams, acting director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, in a statement. "However, the number of unemployed in Michigan has declined for three consecutive months."

(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago, editing by Tiziana Barghini and Chizu Nomiyama)

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