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Apr 15, 4:06 PM EDT

Employers add jobs in 37 US states last month

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AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Employers added more jobs in three-quarters of U.S. states in March, led by big gains in Maryland, Ohio and New Jersey. Just 12 states shed jobs, while there was no change in South Dakota.

THE NUMBERS: The unemployment rate fell in 21 states, rose in 15 and was unchanged in 14, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate doesn't always decline even when more hiring occurs, because more Americans may start job hunting and push up the rate even as others are hired.

The largest monthly job gain was in Maryland, which added 19,300 positions, followed by Ohio, which gained 18,300, and New Jersey with 17,300.

The biggest losses were in Texas, which shed 12,000 jobs, followed by Indiana, with 9,000, and Oklahoma, which lost 5,800. Texas and Oklahoma have large oil and gas industries that have suffered from the drop in energy prices since late 2014.

South Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate in March, at 2.5 percent, followed by New Hampshire with 2.6 percent. The highest unemployment rate was in Alaska, at 6.6 percent.

BIG PICTURE: The figures suggest that hiring was relatively widespread across the country last month. Overall, U.S. employers adding a healthy 215,000 jobs in March. That's just above the average monthly gain of 209,000 in the first quarter.

The U.S. unemployment rate ticked up to 5 percent from 4.9 percent, but mostly for a good reason: More Americans started looking for work, though not all immediately found jobs.

THE TAKEAWAY: The U.S. economy likely barely grew in the first three months of this year, as consumers spent cautiously and business investment was lackluster. At the same time, weak overseas growth has cut into exports.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta projects the economy expanded at just a 0.3 percent annual pace in the first quarter. That's far below the already-weak growth of 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Still, hiring has remained steady this year, which suggests employers remain confident in future growth and see the slowdown as temporary.

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