Apr 21, 11:40 AM EDT

Unemployment rates fell to record lows in four U.S. states last month after months of steady job creation nationwide

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell to record lows in four U.S. states in March after months of steady job creation nationwide.

Unemployment rates fell in 17 states in March and were mostly unchanged in 33, the Labor Department said Friday. Employers added a significant number of jobs in just three states last month and cut them in four. Employment was mostly unchanged in the other 43 states. Hiring nationwide was weak in March but strong in the previous two months.

Arkansas, Colorado, Maine and Oregon reported the lowest unemployment rates since 1976. Colorado's rate, at 2.6 percent, was the nation's lowest.

The unemployment rate in those states fell because more residents found work. That's a better dynamic than in some cases, when the rate falls when those out of work stop looking and are no longer counted as unemployed.

Several other states are benefiting from low unemployment rates: The rate is 2.7 percent in Hawaii and 2.8 percent in New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota. The highest rate was in New Mexico, at 6.7 percent.

Maine, Tennessee and Washington state reported the largest percentage job gains last month, while Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania experienced the biggest cuts.

Nationwide, employers added just 98,000 jobs in March, far below January and February's totals. But hiring has averaged about 175,000 jobs in the first three months of the year, similar to last year's pace. And the unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent from 4.7 percent, as more Americans found jobs.

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