Unemployment fell in April in most metro areas

The best month for private-sector hiring in five years and a pickup in summer jobs helped lower unemployment rates in more than 90 percent of the nation's largest cities in April.

The unemployment rate dropped in 339 metro areas in April, the Labor Department said Wednesday. It rose in 20 cities and remained unchanged in 13. It was the most cities to see a decline in a year.

Many of the areas with the steepest declines are tourist destinations, such as Ocean City, N.J., where hotels and tourist attractions add workers for the summer season. The metro employment data isn't seasonally adjusted for such trends and as a result can be volatile from month to month.

Salinas, Calif., which is near tourist destinations Monterey and Carmel, reported the sharpest decline. Unemployment there fell from 16.5 percent in March to 12.6 percent in April.

Barnstable Town, Mass., near Cape Cod, said its unemployment rate dropped from 10.5 percent to 8.2 percent, the third-steepest decline. New Bedford, Mass., near Martha's Vineyard, said its rate fell from 12.6 percent to 10.7 percent, the fifth-steepest drop.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate ticked up in April to 9 percent and U.S. companies added 268,000 jobs in April, the third month in which the private sector created more than 200,000 jobs.

The pickup in hiring is "increasingly diversified across geographic regions," said Steve Cochrane, a regional economist at Moody's Analytics. "The unemployment rate is falling nearly everywhere."

By contrast, many of the cities seeing declines last year were in the Midwest. They benefited from gains in manufacturing, one of a few sectors to show strength since the recession ended in June 2009.

Over the past year, the 30 cities with the biggest drops in unemployment were all in the Midwest, Cochrane said. But in April, those same cities reported little improvement.

"The manufacturing side has led the recovery, but we are starting to see that wane a little bit," Cochrane said.

U.S. manufacturing activity expanded in May at the slowest pace in 20 months, a survey by a private trade group released Wednesday found. Consumer and business spending is slowing. That has cut new orders and production, the report by the Institute for Supply Management said. At the same time, demand for U.S. exports has fallen, reflecting weaker economies overseas.

The government will release the May employment report on Friday. The consensus forecast is that the economy added 180,000 net jobs last month and the unemployment rate dipped to 8.9 percent.

But many economists are lowering their individual forecasts after a spate of weak economic data, including the ISM report and a report Wednesday from payroll processor ADP that the private sector added only 38,000 jobs last month.