WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell in more than half the U.S. states in March even though job growth slowed. Rates fell largely because many of those out of work stopped looking for jobs and were no longer counted as unemployed.
Unemployment rates fell in 26 states, rose in seven and were unchanged in 17.
Only 23 states reported a net gain in hiring in March, the fewest since August 2011. Employers cut jobs in 26 states, and New Mexico reported little change. That was much worse than in February, when 42 states reported job gains.
Nationwide, hiring slowed sharply in March. Employers added only 88,000 jobs, down from an average of 220,000 from November through February. The national unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent, but only because more Americans ended their job searches.
Nevada reported the highest unemployment rate last month, at 9.7 percent. It was followed by Illinois at 9.5 percent and California and Mississippi, both at 9.4 percent. North Carolina had the fifth-highest rate, at 9.2 percent.
Rhode Island's rate has fallen from 10.6 percent to 9.1 percent in the past year. Florida's has dropped from 8.9 percent to 7.5 percent and Michigan's from 9 percent to 8.5 percent.
All those states have added jobs, although in Rhode Island the gain was only 700. But rates have also fallen because fewer people are looking for jobs. When people without jobs stop actively looking for work, the government no longer counts them as unemployed.
Illinois' unemployment rate has risen from 8.8 percent to 9.5 percent, and Mississippi's has jumped from 9 percent to 9.4 percent.
Florida and California reported the biggest job gains in March from February. Florida added 32,700, California 25,500.
Employers in Ohio, though, cut 20,400 jobs, the biggest loss of any state. Illinois reported a loss of 17,800 jobs, the second-largest loss.
North Dakota's unemployment rate of 3.3 percent was the lowest in the nation, followed by Nebraska at 3.8 percent.