WASHINGTON - The unemployment rate fell last month in more than 80 percent of the nation's largest metro areas, adding to evidence that the recent pickup in hiring is widespread.
The unemployment rate fell in 303 of the nation's 372 largest cities in March, the Labor Department said Wednesday. That's up from the more than the 287 cities that reported a drop the previous month and the best showing since September. The rate rose in 43 cities and was unchanged in 26.Nationwide, the unemployment rate dipped to a two-year low of 8.8 percent in March and has dropped a full percentage point since November. Businesses added a net total of more than 200,000 jobs in March and February, the fastest two-month hiring spree in five years.
The metro employment data is distorted by seasonal trends, such as the hiring of temporary employees for agricultural harvests or for the summer holidays. Unlike the national data, it is not seasonally adjusted and is therefore more volatile from one month to the next.
One way to filter out those effects is to compare each month with the same month a year earlier. Unemployment rates fell in 317 cities last month compared to March 2010. That's the most to report a yearly decline since the recession ended in June 2009.
"Clearly, the economic recovery is broadening across the country," Steve Cochrane, a regional economist at Moody's Analytics, said. "We're still seeing some pretty good improvement in unemployment rates in the industrial Midwest."
The report also shows the lasting effects of the April 2010 BP oil spill, which polluted the Gulf of Mexico and disrupted fishing and oil production in the region.
Seven of the 10 cities with the biggest increases in unemployment in the past year are located in Louisiana, most of them near the Gulf. Baton Rouge, La. reported the largest increase in unemployment in the 12-month period, rising to 8.2 percent from 6.6 percent.
El Centro, Calif. reported the nation's highest unemployment rate, at 24.6 percent, followed by Yuma, Ariz., with 21.7 percent.
Lincoln, Neb. had the lowest rate, with 4.1 percent, followed by Bismarck, N.D. with 4.2 percent.