WASHINGTON — The unemployment rate fell in two-thirds of the nation’s states last month, the latest evidence that the strengthening economy is encouraging many employers to boost hiring.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that the unemployment rate dropped in 34 states in March. That’s the largest number of states to record a decline since June. The rate rose in seven states and was unchanged in nine and Washington, D.C.
Employers hired more workers in 38 states. A government survey of employer payrolls found only 12 states plus Washington, D.C., lost jobs last month, the fewest since October.
Nationally, the unemployment rate fell in March to a two-year low of 8.8 percent, and private employers added more than 200,000 jobs for the second consecutive month. That’s the largest two-month hiring total in four years.
New Mexico reported the biggest monthly drop in unemployment among all states, falling from 8.7 percent in February to 8.1 percent in March. Florida, Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio posted the next biggest monthly declines.
Texas added 37,200 net jobs in March, the most of any state. It was followed by Missouri and Florida, both of which reported strong gains. California lost 11,600 net jobs — the most of any state. Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland and Maine all had large job losses, too.
In fact, Maine saw the largest month-over-month percentage decrease in employment with a 0.9 percent drop. The report had Maine losing 5,100 jobs from February to March.
But Adam Fisher, spokesman for the Maine Department of Labor, said the federal government instituted a new methodology for determining employment gains and losses a year ago that has caused state labor officials to question those numbers.
“We’ve had some significant concerns with the methodology regarding nonfarm jobs; there’s a new methodology from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that is showing a lot of volatility month to month,” said Fisher.
That volatility is particularly noticeable in small, rural states, he said. And the problem isn’t just in perceived job losses, he added. In December and January, the federal numbers showed a sharp increase in Maine jobs that state officials were skeptical of, said Fisher. This latest drop seems to even out that big gain, he added.
As time passes, the numbers for each month are revised, and the volatility from month to month should be smoothed out, said Fisher. He suggested that the overall trend line in unemployment data has become the more important factor to watch, rather than the month-to-month numbers.
According to the report, Nevada again had the highest unemployment rate of any state, although it fell from 13.6 percent to 13.2 percent in March. California, at 12 percent, was second, followed by Florida (11.1 percent) and Rhode Island (11 percent).
North Dakota had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 3.6 percent. It was followed by Nebraska at 4.2 percent and South Dakota at 4.9 percent.
BDN staff writer Matt Wickenheiser contributed to this report.