By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Unemployment rates increased in half of U.S. states in January from December, as employers nationwide added the fewest jobs in seven months.
The Labor Department said Monday that unemployment rates rose in 25 states. They fell in only 8 states and were unchanged in 17.
Despite the increase, some long-suffering states showed improvement in January.
Florida's unemployment rate fell below the national level for the first time in five years, further evidence that the state is recovering from a deep housing slump.
And Michigan, which has benefited from the comeback of the auto industry, added 26,500 jobs in January â¿¿ the most of any state. Its unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.9 percent.
Nationally, the unemployment rate ticked up in January to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in December. Employers added only 119,000 jobs, down from 219,000 in December.
Job gains have since accelerated. Employers added 236,000 jobs in February, and the national unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.7 percent.
Florida has added 127,500 jobs in the past year, the third most of any state. The state has benefited from greater tourism as the U.S. economy has slowly recovered. That has led to more jobs at hotels, restaurants and retail stores.
North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate among states in January, at 3.3 percent. It has benefited from an oil and gas boom. Nebraska had the second lowest at 3.8 percent, followed by South Dakota at 4.4 percent.
California and Rhode Island reported the highest state unemployment rates in January, both at 9.8 percent.
Nevada had the third highest, at 9.7 percent. Still, that's down from 9.8 percent in December. And the state's unemployment rate has fallen sharply over the past 12 months, down from 12 percent in January 2012. That's the biggest year-over-year drop of any state.