By MICHELLE RINDELSLAS VEGAS (AP) â¿¿ Nevada has shed its long-held title as the national leader in unemployment, falling behind Rhode Island as its jobless rate dropped for the 18th straight month. The state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation announced Friday that the unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent in January, after adding a seasonally adjusted 6,600 jobs over a month. "The state's economy continued to produce new jobs at a decent pace," said chief state economist Bill Anderson. "Most economic and labor market barometers are pointing in a positive direction, so we maintain an outlook of improvement in the job market in 2013." Nevada had topped the country in joblessness since February 2010 but fell behind Rhode Island after chalking up a 9.8 percent unemployment rate in December, officials said. The news comes as the unemployment picture improves on both local and national levels. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.7 percent in February from 7.9 percent the previous month. All three of the state's three main metropolitan areas posted improvements. Las Vegas' non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 10.2 percent in January, down 2.3 points from a year ago. Reno-Sparks' jobless rate hit 10.6 in January, a decrease of 1.9 points year-over-year. And Carson City's rate went down to 11.2 percent, a drop of 1.8 points. Job numbers typically decline from December to January as businesses trim their holiday workforce. But Nevada lost fewer jobs than usual after the holiday season, leading to a seasonally adjusted gain, officials said. Employment increased in five major industries, led by hospitality, trade and transportation, and government. Five other industries lost jobs, led by professional and business services, construction, and education and health services. Another landmark in the January report is construction, which essentially held steady in 2012 and counted 1,400 more jobs in January compared with the same time last year, officials said. The construction industry hasn't seen that kind of stability since 2006.