By JEFF AMY
Louisiana's unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent in December, but a separate survey of payrolls showed significant job losses last month.
Still, it capped a strong year for the state's labor market.
Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers released Friday show Louisiana unemployment fell from 5.8 percent in November and 7 percent in December 2011. Louisiana's jobless rate decreased fifth-most among states in 2012, in percentage point terms, while Nevada saw the largest drop.The number of unemployed Louisianans fell to 115,000 from 120,000 in November. In December 2011, 144,000 Louisianans were unemployed. The unemployment rate is calculated by a survey that asks how many people are looking for a job. A second survey each month asks employers how many people are on their payrolls, a measure many economists use as their top labor market indicator. Louisiana payrolls fell by 11,000 jobs to 1.95 million, the third-largest decrease in the nation. In percentage terms, only Hawaii saw a larger drop. But that reverse followed November's leap of 15,000 jobs, which brought payrolls to an all-time high of 1.96 million. The 1.95 million nonfarm employees in December remained near the historic peak. For the year, payrolls rose by 24,000 from 1.93 million in December 2011. Payrolls fell in December across almost every sector of Louisiana's economy except professional and business services, which was flat. "Our workforce continues to grow and get stronger, and that helps employers grow and prosper in our state," Louisiana Workforce Commission Executive Director Curt Eysink said in a statement. "Louisiana has become one of the best states where you can get a job or grow a business." Overall, unemployment rates fell in 22 states, rose in 16 and were flat in 12. Nevada and Rhode Island tied for the highest unemployment rate at 10.2 percent, and North Dakota kept the lowest at 3.2 percent.