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Jan 27, 5:41 PM EST

Jobless-rate moves in 2014: Colorado best, Louisiana worst

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Colorado's unemployment rate fell by a third. Louisiana's jumped nearly a quarter.

Across the country, changes in unemployment rates varied from state to state in 2014, but collectively the numbers pointed to a year of substantial improvement: Jobless rates fell in 46 states, and everyone except Mississippi added jobs.

Even Louisiana's gain masked some good news: The state added a healthy number of jobs - just not enough to keep up with population growth.

The broad improvement shown in Tuesday's report from the Labor Department reflected a pickup in hiring across the country. Employers nationwide added nearly 3 million jobs last year, the most since 1999. The gains were driven by solid economic growth in spring and summer. During 2014, the national unemployment rate sank to 5.6 percent from 6.7 percent.

In Colorado, which enjoyed the biggest proportional drop in unemployment, healthy hiring lowered its rate to 4 percent from 6.2 percent. Colorado's employers added 62,300 jobs, boosting its payrolls 2.6 percent, the nation's 10th best job gain.

Nathan Kelley, an economist at Moody's Analytics, said Colorado is enjoying an influx of highly educated young people, many of whom are taking jobs at technology-oriented startups and in the aerospace industry. About 58 percent of Boulder's residents over age 25 has a college degree, the highest such proportion in the country.

"People are essentially flooding into this region," he said.

Greater hiring in the state has ranged across most industries, the government said, from manufacturing, construction and professional services to restaurants and hotels.

Other states with sizable drops in unemployment rates last year were: Idaho, whose rate fell to 3.7 percent from 5.6 percent; Ohio, where it fell to 4.8 percent from 7.1 percent; and Illinois, where it dropped to 6.2 percent from 8.9 percent.

Rates rose in only two states last year. The largest was in Louisiana, whose rate jumped to 6.7 percent from 5.4 percent. But that jump occurred because more people moved into the state and didn't find work, not because companies weren't hiring. Louisiana added 29,000 jobs, a 1.5 percent increase. But the number of unemployed people rose to 146,000 from 112,500.

Kyle Hillman, an economist at Moody's, said Louisiana's higher unemployment rate was actually a positive sign. He noted that it showed "people are going there to get jobs," even if many of them aren't being hired right away.

The only other state to report a rising higher unemployment rate last year was North Dakota, but the increase was trifling. It moved up just 0.1 percentage point to 2.8 percent. North Dakota, which has benefited from an oil and gas drilling boom, still has the nation's lowest rate.

Its energy boom contributed to a gain of 24,500 jobs last year, a 5.4 percent increase - the largest percentage increase in the nation. Yet North Dakota's population also rose a bit, contributing to the tiny rise in its jobless rate.

Unemployment rates were unchanged in two states last year: Vermont and West Virginia.

In December, rates fell in 42 states, rose in four and were unchanged in four. Job gains remained healthy in states with large oil and gas industries, suggesting that plunging oil prices have yet to cause significant layoffs. Texas gained 45,700 jobs in December, the most in the nation.

Overall, 41 states gained jobs last month. Nine lost jobs.

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