updated 10/22/2010 11:57:39 AM ET 2010-10-22T15:57:39

Nearly half of U.S. states reported drops in their unemployment rates last month, the best showing since June. But job creation was weak in most areas of the country.

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Unemployment fell in 23 states and Washington, D.C., rose in 11 states and was unchanged in 16 during September, the Labor Department said Friday. The declines were nearly double the number reported by states in the previous month.

Still, little hiring took place last month. A survey of employers found that payrolls decreased in 34 states and increased in only 16 states and Washington, D.C.

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The unemployment rate can fall even as job creation is slow if workers stop searching for jobs and drop out of the labor force. If they aren't looking for work, they aren't counted as unemployed.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate was unchanged last month at 9.6 percent. It's declined only slightly in the past year, from 9.8 percent in September 2009.

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But some areas have done worse than others in that time. Unemployment in the Mountain West region, an eight-state region that stretches from New Mexico to Montana, has jumped to 9.3 percent from 8.7 percent a year earlier.

That was the largest increase among the nine census regions and only two other regions saw unemployment rise in that time.

Meanwhile, the deep south and Midwest regions saw sharp declines. Unemployment in the four-state East South Central region, which includes Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, dropped to 9.5 percent from 10.7 percent in the past year.

A delayed housing bust and declines in manufacturing and tourism have hurt the Mountain states.

Its lagging pace represents a sharp turnaround for a region that was growing at a healthy clip before the recession. Montana, Idaho and Utah boasted some of the lowest unemployment rates in the country before the downturn.

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