Unemployment was unchanged in five states, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.
The jobless rate fell dramatically in several states, with the largest declines in Louisiana and Nevada. The rate dropped to 5.8% from 6.6% in Louisiana and to 10.8% from 11.5% in Nevada.
Nevada continued to have the highest unemployment rate at 10.8%, followed by Rhode Island at 10.4%. North Dakota, which is making the most of an oil boom, continued to have the lowest rate at 3.1%
Unemployment also declined to 7.6% from 8.2% in Tennessee, to 7.5% from 8.1% in Alabama, and to 8.5% from 9% in Mississippi.
Significant drops in unemployment rates don't always indicate strong job growth. The national unemployment rate fell to 7.7% from 7.9% last month as 350,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force, which includes those employed and looking for work, BLS reported earlier this month.
While some of those were discouraged workers who gave up job searches, many Baby Boomers are retiring, slowing the growth of the labor force and allowing the unemployment rate to fall even with modest job gains.
Since August, for example, the economy has added an average 139,000 jobs a month but the unemployment rate has declined to 7.7% from 8.1%. Traditionally, job gains of at least 200,000 a month have been needed to quickly lower unemployment.
The Federal Reserve last week agreed to continue its easy-money policies, with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke noting the labor market is "a bit weaker" than the jobless rate suggests.
On Thursday, the government revised up its estimate of economic growth in the third quarter to 3.1% from 2.7%, noting exports and consumer spending were stronger than initially believed. And while consumer sentiment has weakened during federal budget battles, the housing market continues to rebound, and the government reported Friday that personal spending rose solidly in November.
Businesses, however, have tempered hiring and investment amid uncertainty about the package of year-end spending cuts and tax hikes known as the fiscal cliff. It could push the U.S. back into recession if Congress and the White House can't agree on a plan to soften its impact. Still, a closely-watched measure of capital spending increased sharply in November, the government reported Friday.
(Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY)