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Jun 16, 11:12 AM EDT

Hiring picks up in 9 US states, while unemployment rates hit record lows in four



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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Employers added a significant number of jobs in nine states last month, and unemployment rates in four states fell to record lows.

The Labor Department said Friday that the states with the largest percentage gains in jobs were Alaska, Alabama and Louisiana. The nation's capital, Washington D.C., recorded an even larger increase, ahead of all the states.

Overall, the figures suggest that steady, if slower, hiring this year is improving the job market in many states. Florida added nearly 30,000 jobs last month, the most of any state, followed by New York with nearly 28,000 and North Carolina with almost 19,000.

Still, the job gains nationwide have slowed in the past couple of months. Hiring averaged 121,000 a month in the past three months, down from 201,000 in the preceding three. Economists say the decline has occurred mostly because hiring typically slows as the pool of unemployed dwindles. The nationwide unemployment rate is at a 16-year low of 4.3 percent.

Arkansas' unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent in May, a record low. Mississippi, Oregon and Washington state also reported record lows, all dating back to 1976.

Unemployment rates in Arkansas, Oregon and Washington fell because more residents in those states found jobs. But the rate fell in Mississippi for a less positive reason: The number of people working or looking for work in the state fell.

The government doesn't count those out of work as unemployed unless they are actively searching for jobs.

The largest job losses, measured as a percentage of the state's overall employment, were in New Hampshire, followed by Nevada, West Virginia and New Jersey.

Colorado had the lowest unemployment rate last month, at 2.3 percent, followed by North Dakota, at 2.5 percent.

Alaska's unemployment rate of 6.7 percent was the nation's highest, followed by New Mexico at 6.6 percent.

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