WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The jobless rates of all but four U.S. states declined in 2012, as the economic recovery spread across the country and the average national unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.9 percent in 2011, Labor Department data released on Friday showed.
The only increases were in New York, where the average rate inched up to 8.5 percent in 2012 from 8.3 percent, and New Jersey where it grew to 9.5 percent from 9.4 percent. In New Hampshire, the jobless rate was unchanged at 5.5 percent. Pennsylvania's rate was also the same at 7.9 percent.
Only three states had unemployment rates of 10 percent or more - Nevada at 11.1 percent, California at 10.5 percent, and Rhode Island at 10.4 percent - compared to eight in 2011.
Unlike previous downturns, the 2007-09 recession was fairly uniform, sparing only a few states. The recovery, though, began unevenly, with states rich in oil, natural gas and commodities pulling ahead and those where housing had been the major source of jobs limping for years after the real estate market collapsed. In 2012, though, manufacturing and technology helped more states improve.
Regionally, the West had the greatest drop in its jobless rate, of 1.2 percentage points, followed by the South where it fell 1.1 percentage points, the Labor Department said.
North Dakota, with its abundance of natural gas and oil, had the lowest jobless rate in the nation in 2012 for the fourth year in a row, 3.1 percent. It was followed by Nebraska, 3.9 percent, and South Dakota, 4.4 percent.
U.S. employers have been on tenterhooks this year, as the federal government struggles to find a way to reduce its debt and deficit. On Friday across-the-board spending cuts were set to begin, which are intended to slash $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over a decade. Contractors in the private sector as well as city and state officials have warned the reductions could lead to layoffs.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Neil Stempleman)