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April 17, 2003
West Continues with Highest Jobless Rate in February
Most regional and state unemployment rates were little changed in February. All regions and 42 states recorded over-the-month shifts of 0.3 percentage point or less, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported this week.

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The national jobless rate was about unchanged at 5.8 percent. Nonfarm employment decreased in 33 states and the District of Columbia in February.

The South had the lowest unemployment rate in February, 5.4 percent, followed closely by the Midwest, at 5.5 percent. The West continued to report the highest rate, 6.2 percent. Over the year, the West registered the largest jobless rate decrease among the regions (-0.3 percentage point). The Northeast had the largest increase from a year ago (+0.3 percentage point).

Among the nine geographic divisions, the West North Central continued to record the lowest jobless rate, 4.2 percent in February. The Pacific again reported the highest rate, 6.6 percent. All divisions posted little or no change from January. Over the year, the Mountain division recorded the largest unemployment rate decrease (-0.5 percentage point).

Three divisions reported the largest over-the-year rate increases - the Middle Atlantic, New England, and West South Central (+0.3 percentage point each).

In February, Hawaii reported the lowest unemployment rate, 3.0 percent. This was the first time in 2 years that a state from outside the West North Central division posted the lowest rate and the first time since 1991 that Hawaii recorded the lowest state rate. Three of the six states with rates below 4.0 percent were located in the West North Central - South Dakota, 3.3 percent, Nebraska, 3.5 percent, and North Dakota, 3.6 percent. Montana again reached a new low in its series, 4.0 percent in February.

Oregon continued to post the highest jobless rate, 7.3 percent, along with two other Pacific states - Alaska, 7.0 percent, and Washington, 6.8 percent. In February, 35 states reported unemployment rates below the U.S. average, 13 states and the District of Columbia had higher rates, and 2 states had the same rate.

Unemployment rates increased over the month in 24 states and the District of Columbia, declined in 18 states, and were unchanged in 8 states.

Total nonfarm employment decreased in 33 states and the District of Columbia, increased in 16 states, and was unchanged in 1 state from January to February. The largest employment decreases occurred in Illinois (-30,200), New York (-22,000), California (-15,100), Virginia (-13,900), and North Carolina and Ohio (-12,900 each).

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