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For African-Americans, job market remains rough

While the U.S. labor market showed healthy gains in 2015, jobs didn't sprout equally across states, while among Americans some groups benefited more than others from the decline in unemployment.

In the final quarter of 2015, the lowest unemployment rate for African-Americans, 6.7 percent in Virginia, was equal to the highest white unemployment rate (6.7 percent in West Virginia), according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The jobless rate for blacks was highest in Illinois, at 13.1 percent, while for whites the lowest was in South Dakota, at 1.5 percent, the liberal think tank found. Hispanic unemployment ranged from a low of 2.9 percent in the District of Columbia to 11.9 percent in Massachusetts.

Nationally, African-Americans had the highest unemployment rate by race, at 8.3 percent, followed by Latinos (6.3 percent), whites (4.5 percent), and Asians (4 percent), the institute said.

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Economic Policy Institute

All but seven states gained jobs last year, and all but eight finished 2015 with lower unemployment than the previous year.

The states that lost jobs last year were mostly those where the energy sector plays an outsized role in the economy, and where sliding oil prices led to reduced production. The states that have seen the greatest impact from the slump in crude: Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Despite those job losses, only New Mexico and West Virginia saw a meaningful increase in unemployment in 2015, with cutbacks in coal mining and oil production likely factors. The cutbacks by coal mining companies were also cited as a potential safety concern by a top regulator, who sounded his alarm over the deaths of three miners in the first three weeks of 2016.

The state with the highest overall unemployment rate at the end of 2015 was New Mexico, at 6.8 percent. North Dakota had the lowest jobless rate, at 2.7 percent for the final three months of last year.

Beyond affecting employment, depressed energy prices also hit state coffers. North Dakota's governor earlier this month ordered steep cuts in government spending to plug a more than $1 billion gap in the state's budget stemming from the slide in oil prices. It's a theme that echoed in other oil-patch states.

In January, U.S. payrolls expanded by 151,000 jobs, the smallest increase in four months, while the unemployment rate edged down to 4.9 percent.