updated 1/25/2011 11:09:56 AM ET 2011-01-25T16:09:56

The unemployment rate rose in 20 states last month as employers in most states shed jobs.

The Labor Department says the unemployment rate rose in 20 states and fell in 15. It was unchanged in another 15 states. That's nearly the same as in November, when the rate rose in 21 states, fell in 15 and was the same in 14.

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The report is evidence that the job market is barely improving even as the economy grows. Most economists expect hiring to pick up this year, although the unemployment rate will likely remain high.

Employers in most states didn't add any net new jobs last month. The number of jobs on employer payrolls fell in 35 states in December, the department said. Only 15 states reported gains. Layoffs have slowed dramatically in the past year, but hiring has yet to pick up.

Texas and South Carolina reported the biggest net job gains in December. Texas added 20,000 positions; South Carolina gained 9,000.

Nevada, still suffering from a massive housing bust, posted the nation's highest unemployment rate at 14.5 percent. That's up from 14.3 percent the previous month and the state's highest on records dating from 1976. California reported the second-highest rate, at 12.5 percent, followed by Florida at 12 percent.

North Dakota's unemployment rate of 3.8 percent was the nation's lowest. It's followed by Nebraska and South Dakota, with 4.4 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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