WASHINGTON - Employers stepped up hiring in 30 states in January, led by big gains in Florida, Texas and North Carolina, while 20 states shed jobs.
The unemployment rate fell in 28 states, rose in eight and was unchanged in 14. The unemployment rate doesn't always decline even when more hiring occurs because more Americans may start job hunting and push up the rate even as others are hired.
Florida added the most jobs of any state, gaining 32,200. That was followed by Texas with 31,400 and North Carolina with 23,200. Florida's biggest employment gains occurred in restaurants, hotels and amusement parks.
Pennsylvania lost 16,100 jobs, the most of any state. New Jersey shed 14,100, and in South Carolina, total jobs fell 10,100.
Fewer states gained jobs in January as hiring slowed a bit nationwide. Overall, employers added 172,000 jobs in January, below the average pace of hiring last year. Hiring nationally picked up in February, to 242,000, and the unemployment rate remained at an eight-year low of 4.9 percent.
The nation's job market is generally improving, although many Americans are no longer working or looking for work, and wage growth remains tepid.
Slower growth overseas and the strong dollar may have lowered hiring in January. The financial markets also fell sharply that month as fears of a global recession intensified.
The U.S. economy, however, has remained healthy despite those challenges. Consumer spending rose at the fastest pace in eight months in January, as more Americans have paychecks to spend.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta forecasts the economy will expand at a modest 2.2 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter, up from a sluggish 1 percent increase in the final three months of last year.