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Unemployment rates below 6 pct. in 25 US states

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell in nearly all U.S. states last month, and half the states now have rates below 6 percent. The figures are a sign of widespread, if slow, improvement in the nation's job market.

Unemployment rates fell in 43 states in April, the Labor Department said Friday, rose in two states and were unchanged in five.

Hiring is picking up as well. Employers added jobs in 39 states, while 10 states posted job losses. Nebraska reported no change.

Twenty-five states now have unemployment rates of 5.9 percent or lower. The Federal Reserve considers “full employment” to be between 5.2 percent and 5.6 percent. Rates at that level are considered “full employment” because if they fell lower, inflation could rise. But the relationship isn't exact. The national rate fell to 3.9 percent in late 2000 without causing a spike in prices.

Hiring wasn't the whole reason rates fell in many states: Fewer Americans also looked for work. The government doesn't count those out of work as unemployed unless they are actively hunting for jobs.

Many of the states with low unemployment are small. North Dakota continues to have the lowest rate nationwide at 2.6 percent. That's the same as the previous month and down from 3 percent a year ago. Vermont's rate of 3.3 percent is the next lowest.

But some larger states are also seeing improvement. Texas' unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent in April from 5.5 percent in March. Employers added 64,100 jobs last month, the most of any state.

The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania, the nation's sixth-largest state by population, declined to 5.7 percent from 6 percent as the state gained nearly 11,000 jobs. Ohio, the seventh-largest, saw a similar improvement. Its rate fell to 5.7 percent from 6.1 percent, with employers creating 12,600 new jobs.

Nationally, businesses and government agencies added 288,000 new positions in April, the biggest burst of hiring in 2{ years. The unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent from 6.7 percent.

Rhode Island reported the highest unemployment rate at 8.3 percent, followed by Nevada at 8 percent. Both states saw significant improvement, with Rhode Island's rate falling from 8.7 percent and Nevada's from 8.5 percent.

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