Dec 19, 11:54 AM EST

Unemployment rates fell in 41 US states last month

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell in 41 U.S. states in November and were unchanged in six more, reflecting healthy job gains across the country.

The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates rose in only three states: Connecticut, Louisiana, and Washington state.

Solid economic growth since the spring has encouraged more employers to step up hiring. The U.S. has added nearly 2.7 million jobs this year, the most since 1999. That has lowered unemployment rates in most of the country.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in November, down from 7 percent a year ago. Employers added 321,000 jobs last month, the most in three years.

North Dakota's 2.7 percent unemployment rate was lowest in the nation, while Mississippi's 7.3 percent rate was the highest.

Thirty-seven states reported higher job totals, while 12 lost jobs. Idaho's payrolls were unchanged.

The biggest job gains occurred in California, which added 90,100 jobs in November, followed by Florida, which gained 41,900. Texas added the third-most jobs, with 34,800.

California posted a large increase in a category that includes retail and shipping jobs, likely reflecting some hiring for the holiday shopping season. It also saw big gains in hotels and restaurants and professional and business services, which includes higher-paying jobs such as accountants and architects.

The largest job losses were in West Virginia, which had 5,200 fewer jobs than the previous month. It was followed by Mississippi, which had 4,500 fewer, and Kansas, with 4,100 fewer.

West Virginia lost jobs in construction, professional and business services, and hotels and restaurants.

Overall, unemployment rates are getting closer to healthy levels in most parts of the country. The rate fell below 6 percent in 7 states last month, bringing the total number of states with rates below 6 percent to 29.

Still, much of the decline has occurred because many of the unemployed have stopped looking for work, rather than because they have found jobs. The government doesn't count people as unemployed unless they are actively searching for work.

And there are still 9.1 million Americans officially counted as unemployed, up from 7.6 million before the recession.

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