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Nevada jobless rate falls to 9.5 percent in May

Martin Griffith, Associated Press

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- The state's unemployment rate inched down to 9.5 percent in May, the lowest it's been since the recession began taking hold in 2008, officials said Friday.

Nevada's jobless rate fell 0.1 percentage point from April and 2 percentage points from same month a year ago, according to the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

But while Nevada had 1,100 more workers in May, 131,400 people in the state are still looking for jobs. Nevada continues to have the highest unemployment rate in the country, with Illinois and Mississippi next at 9.1 percent.

Bill Anderson, chief economist for the department, said "cautious optimism" in Nevada's economy is attracting more people to the workforce, as May marks the fourth straight month of expansion.

"The fact that our labor force is growing and the ranks of the unemployed are shrinking is a good indicator that Nevada is gaining momentum," Anderson said in a statement.

The jobless rate also dropped in the state's metro areas. Las Vegas' unemployment rate fell from 9.6 percent in April to 9.3 percent in May, while the rate in the Reno/Sparks area fell from 9.7 percent to 9.2 percent. Carson City's unemployment dropped from 10.1 percent to 9.5 percent. Those regional figures aren't seasonally adjusted.

Lyon County had the highest unemployment rate at 12.5 percent, while Nevada's mining counties continued to outperform the rest of the state, with jobless rates ranging from 3.8 percent in Esmeralda to 6.9 percent in White Pine. Elko's rate was 5.2 percent, down from 5.9 percent a year ago.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said he's pleased May's unemployment rate is the lowest since 2008, but more work must be done to create jobs.

"Even though employment so far this year is nearly 25,000 jobs higher than a year ago, the pace of hiring activity remains cautious," he said. "While the decrease in the unemployment rate is encouraging, we must continue our work to diversify the economy and create new private sector jobs."

California has seen the largest drop in unemployment among the states in the past 12 months. Its rate fell to 8.6 percent in May, down 2.1 percentage points from a year earlier. Nevada's decline of 2 percentage points was the second largest.

"As of May, 113,000 more Nevadans are working full-time relative to the recessionary low," an employment department report states. "While a significant improvement, this represents a gain of only half the full-time positions lost since pre-recession levels."

Leisure and hospitality, Nevada's largest employment sector, reported an estimated 325,900 jobs in May, up from 320,900 a year ago.

"Nevada's economy is continuing to add jobs, and today's announcement is encouraging news," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. "But the economy is not adding jobs as quickly as it should, and we must do more to create jobs and help our economy grow."