WASHINGTON — The unemployment rate fell in two-thirds of the nation’s 372 metro areas last month, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s an improvement from July, when the rate fell in only 152 areas.
The department said some regions of the country are recovering faster than others. Western states, struggling with a beleaguered housing sector, are losing jobs and reporting higher unemployment rates. Northeastern states, meanwhile, are posting job gains in areas such as finance and hotels and restaurants.
The Maine Department of Labor reported earlier this month that Maine had 589,400 nonfarm payroll jobs in August, down 4,400 over the month, with the number of payroll jobs was about the same as in January.
“Like the nation, there are a range of conflicting indicators,” Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said.
According to the Maine department, job postings are up from 2009 lows, but have been relatively flat since April. Average hours worked also are up from last year, but still below pre-recession highs.
“The recovery has not yet become strong enough to provide the sustained improvement in workforce conditions we would like to see,” Fortman said.
California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado shed jobs in August and their unemployment rates rose. At the same time, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New Jersey added jobs and reported lower unemployment rates.
California has shed jobs for the past four months, while Massachusetts has gained jobs for seven months in a row.
For Western states, “nothing really gets better until the housing market stabilizes,” said Steve Cochrane, an economist at Moody’s Analytics.
A depressed housing sector costs jobs for construction workers, realtors and other workers directly tied to the sector.
But it also has broader ramifications. Homeowners who are “under water” — or owe more on their homes than they are worth — are less likely to spend money renovating them, fixing them, or buying new furniture for them, Cochrane noted.
Neary 70 percent of homeowners are under water in Nevada, as of the end of June, according to real estate data provider CoreLogic.
Nationwide, North Dakota posted the lowest jobless rate at 3.7 percent, followed by South Dakota at 4.5 percent and Nebraska at 4.6 percent.