Businesses and other employers added jobs in 41 states in October, the best showing in five months, the Labor Department said Tuesday.
The figures indicate the job market is picking up a bit in most parts of the country. Even the nation's hardest hit states — Nevada and Michigan — showed declines in their unemployment rates.
But the gains weren't enough to broadly reduce unemployment rates. The Labor Department said the jobless rate fell last month in 19 states, remained the same in 17 and rose in 14. Unemployment can rise when jobs are created if more people begin searching for work.
"These numbers suggest we've stabilized and started to show real improvement," said Anthony Chan, chief economist at JPMorgan Private Wealth Management. "But we're a long way from crafting the 'Mission Accomplished' sign."
The nation's four worst-hit states all reported some positive developments, evidence that the economic downturn is loosening its grip.
Nevada reported the first decline in its jobless rate in nearly five years. The state's unemployment rate, the nation's highest, fell to 14.2 percent from 14.4 percent in September.
Michigan, with the nation's second-highest rate, said unemployment declined to 12.8 percent from 13 percent. That's the first drop below 13 percent in 19 months.
The states with the third- and fourth-highest unemployment rates, California and Florida, both reported job gains.
California added nearly 39,000 jobs in October — the largest net gain in four and a half years. Still, its unemployment rate remained at 12.4 percent, as more people looked for work last month.
Florida's jobless rate was flat, at 11.9 percent, even after employers added 6,900 jobs last month. In the past year, the state has gained 35,700 jobs, its strongest 12-month gain since May 2007, the state government said.
People who are not actively job hunting are not counted in the unemployment rate. They can range from those who don't want jobs, to those who are in school or have given up looking.
Nevada, California and Florida were hammered by large housing busts. Michigan suffered as U.S. auto sales plummeted and GM and Chrysler laid off thousands of workers and sought bankruptcy protection.
Recently, Las Vegas has seen a rise in visitors, said Steve Cochrane, a regional economist at Moody's Analytics. That's an important boost to Nevada's tourism and gaming industries. Still, arrivals through the Las Vegas airport are down, which means many visitors are driving in from nearby places like Southern California. Those visitors tend to spend less at casinos than overseas visitors, Cochrane said.
Michigan, meanwhile, is adding manufacturing jobs — 3,000 in October and 9,000 in the past year. That's important, Cochrane said, because many economists feared that once inventories of autos and other manufactured goods were rebuilt after being cut sharply in the recession, the factory sector would slow again.
"It looks like there might be some life left in this manufacturing recovery," Cochrane said.
The latest report also shows how much states such as Nevada are still struggling. The state saw a decline in total jobs last month. Its unemployment rate fell because many of those out of work are giving up on their job hunts.
Many are likely moving elsewhere in search of jobs. A state demographer, Jeff Hardcastle, estimated earlier this month that 70,000 people have left Nevada since 2009. Nevada's work force has shrunk by nearly 49,000, or 3.6 percent, in the past year.
North Dakota reported the nation's lowest unemployment rate, at 3.8 percent, followed by South Dakota and Nebraska, at 4.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively.
Nationwide, employers added 151,000 jobs in October, while the unemployment rate was unchanged at 9.6 percent. Companies added the largest net gain in jobs in six months.
The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the July-September period, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That's better than an earlier estimate of 2 percent, but not enough to generate the millions of jobs needed to reduce unemployment.