WASHINGTON -- Unemployment rates fell in April for more than 90 percent of the nation's 372 largest metro areas as hiring picked up around the country.
The Labor Department says the jobless rate dropped in 346 areas last month. It rose in only 12 and remained flat in 14.
That's much better than March, when unemployment fell in 257 areas and rose in 89.
Much of the improvement was seen in Midwestern regions with significant manufacturing operations. Manufacturers, who added 44,000 jobs nationwide in April, are benefiting from increasing overseas sales and efforts by retailers and other U.S. companies to restock their warehouses.
For example, Monroe, Mich., near Detroit, saw its unemployment rate fall to 13.4 percent in April from 16 percent in March. Joblessness in Longview, Washington, which hosts several paper and packaging makers, dropped to 8.5 percent from 10.1 percent. And unemployment in Anderson, S.C., which is home to many auto parts companies, fell to 10.7 percent from 12.3 percent.
Joblessness is still widespread, with 14 metro areas recording unemployment rates of 15 percent or above in April. But that's down from 28 areas in March.
Unemployment fell below 15 percent in five metro areas in Michigan, the government's report said. U.S. automakers, after decimating their work forces in 2009, are adding workers as sales grow.
Chrysler LLC said last month it will hire 1,100 new workers at a plant in Detroit to help build the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. Ford Motor Co., meanwhile, said in May that it will add 170 jobs in two factories near Detroit to make parts for its hybrid cars.
Ford said Wednesday that sales jumped 22 percent in May from the previous year. General Motors said its sales rose 17 percent from May 2009, when the company was sliding into bankruptcy protection.
George Erickcek, a senior regional analyst at W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich., said employment in Michigan is stabilizing in line with auto sales.
But U.S. auto sales, at about 11 million a year, are still much lower than pre-recession levels of about 16 million per year, he said.
"It's possible we've reached bottom," Erickcek said. But the report "doesn't say anything" about how quickly jobs will return, he added. Michigan faces very high unemployment for at least the rest of this year, he said.
The metro unemployment data isn't seasonally adjusted and can be volatile from month to month.
The report follows other recent signs that hiring has turned up. The nation's economy generated a net gain of 290,000 jobs in April. But that wasn't enough to hold down the unemployment rate, which rose to 9.9 percent.