WASHINGTON - Unemployment rates dropped in 22 U.S. states last month and stayed the same in 14, as the nation at large posted a fifth straight month of solid hiring.
The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates rose in 14 states. Meanwhile, employers added jobs in 33 states and cut back in 17.
The biggest drop in the unemployment rate occurred in Illinois, where it fell to 7.1 percent from 7.5 percent. The state's rate has fallen by 0.8 percentage points in the past two months, partly because more people have given up searching for work.
Stronger hiring has helped lower unemployment in many parts of the country. Nationwide, employers added 288,000 positions last month, capping the healthiest stretch of job gains in 15 years. The robust increases have helped cut the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent, the lowest in nearly six years.
The largest job gains, as a percentage of the workforce, occurred in Indiana, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Hiring rose 0.6 percent last month in each state. The biggest job losses were in Alaska, where employment fell 1.7 percent, and West Virginia, where it dropped 1.2 percent.
Mississippi and Rhode Island have the nation's highest unemployment rates, both at 7.9 percent. North Dakota, which has benefited from an oil and gas drilling boom, has the lowest rate, at 2.7 percent.