- Associated Press - Friday, December 16, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - Employers stepped up their hiring in nine U.S. states last month and cut jobs in two amid modest improvement in the nation’s labor market.

The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates fell sharply in 18 states and were little changed in 32 states.

Florida reported the largest job gain in November, adding 29,600 jobs, followed by Indiana, which gained 13,100 jobs, and South Carolina, with 12,500.

The largest drops in unemployment rates last month occurred in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Missouri, each of which saw a decline of 0.4 percent.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate fell to a nine-year low of 4.6 percent last month, as employers added 178,000 jobs. But much of the drop occurred because more Americans stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed.

The government only considers people unemployed if they are actively hunting for jobs. While the United States has added 15.4 million jobs since hiring bottomed out in February 2010, a big reason the jobless rate has fallen since then has been because the number of people working or looking for work has fallen.

New Hampshire and South Dakota had the lowest unemployment rates last month, at 2.7 percent each. Alaska and New Mexico had the highest rates, at 6.8 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively.

Two states lost a significant number of jobs last month: Virginia, which shed 13,600, and Colorado, which lost 12,500.

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