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Unemployment Up in 43 States in December

WASHINGTON -- Unemployment rates rose in 43 states last month, the government said Friday, painting a bleak picture of the job market and illustrating nationwide data released two weeks ago. 

The rise in joblessness was a sharp change from November, when 36 states said their unemployment rates fell. Four states -- South Carolina, Delaware, Florida and North Carolina -- reported record-high jobless rates in December. 

New Jersey's rate, meanwhile, rose to a 33-year high of 10.1 percent while New York's reached a 26-year high of 9 percent. 

Analysts said the report showed the economy is recovering at too weak a pace to generate consistent job creation. 

"A lot of states that had started to add jobs (in November) gave up those gains in December," said Sophia Koropeckyj, managing director at Moody's Economy.com. 

Texas and Georgia lost more jobs in December than they had gained the previous month, she noted, while Arizona and South Carolina lost nearly as many as they had gained. 

That is consistent with nationwide trends. Employers shed a net total of 85,00 jobs in December, the government said earlier this month, after notching a small gain of 4,000 jobs in November. 

In another nationwide trend, long-suffering states like California and Michigan saw their jobless rates stabilize even as they continued to bleed jobs. That's because thousands of frustrated workers gave up hunting for work and dropped out of the labor force, which means they aren't included in the unemployment rate. 

California lost 38,800 jobs, the most of any state. But its unemployment rate was unchanged at 12.4 percent, the fifth-highest in the nation. That's because 107,000 people, or 0.6 percent of the state's work force, gave up and stopped job-hunting. 

Michigan shed 15,700 jobs, but 31,000 people left the labor force. That caused the state's jobless rate to fall slightly, to 14.6 percent from 14.7 percent. Michigan has the nation's highest unemployment rate. 

Nationally, more than 600,000 people left the labor force in December, according to government data. The large exodus from the labor force indicates that "unemployment is a lot worse than the numbers suggest," Koropeckyj said. 

Still, Michigan has actually gained about 10,000 jobs over the past three months, as automakers and other manufacturers have boosted production to restock inventories depleted over the summer and early fall. 

"That's a positive thing for a state that has been doing so terribly for so long," said Dave Iaia, an economist at IHS Global Insight. 

Texas lost the second-most jobs: 23,900. That sent its jobless rate to 8.3 percent in December from 8 percent. The next-largest job losses were in Ohio, Illinois and Michigan. 

The economy grew at a 2.2 percent annual rate in last year's third quarter, after declining for four straight quarters during the recession. Many economists estimate that growth accelerated to more than 4 percent in the October-December quarter. But that's still sluggish by the standards of many previous recoveries. 

And growth could slow in the first half of this year as temporary factors, such as government stimulus spending and inventory restocking, fade. 

Many states saw sharp drops in restaurant, hotel and other leisure employment, a sign that consumers are still holding back on their spending. Nationwide, the United States lost 25,000 leisure and hospitality jobs in December. 

Texas shed 6,500 restaurant and hotel positions. Florida lost 5,600, South Carolina 5,200 and North Carolina lost 2,600 -- more than any other sector in that state.