CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABERWASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ An increase in hiring helped lower unemployment rates in 37 U.S. states last month, the latest indication that the job market is slowly healing. Unemployment rates are now below 7 percent in 23 of the 50 states. The Labor Department says rates rose in seven states in October and were unchanged in six. South Carolina's rate fell from 9.1 percent to 8.6 percent, the biggest drop among states. It has fallen a full percentage point in just two months. The state gained 7,300 jobs in October, mostly in hotels, restaurants, education and health care, and government. Alaska and Wisconsin recorded the next biggest declines. Nationwide, the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9 percent in October. But it has declined a full point in the past year. Employers added 171,000 jobs in October. Job gains in September and August were also much stronger than initially estimated. That raised the average job growth from July through September to 174,000 a month, up from 67,000 a month in the April-June quarter. The biggest job gains among states in October were in California and Texas. California employers added 45,800 positions. Texas gained 36,600 jobs. Michigan, New Jersey and Minnesota shed the most jobs. Nevada reported the highest unemployment rate, at 11.5 percent. But the rate fell from 11.8 percent in September and is at its lowest level in three and a half years. It has fallen almost two percentage points in the past twelve months. North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate among states, at 3.1 percent. The state has benefited from an oil and gas drilling boom.