In a reversal of earlier gains, more states lost jobs than added them in November, signaling that hiring is occurring only sporadically around the country.
Unemployment rates dropped in 36 states and the District of Columbia, but that trend appeared to reflect more people leaving the work force. Unemployed people who stop looking for jobs out of frustration aren't counted in the labor force.
Friday's Labor Department report underscored that employers have yet to ramp up hiring, and many Americans can't find work. The number of people jobless for at least six months rose last month to 5.9 million, according to a separate report released earlier this month. And the average length of unemployment exceeds 28 weeks, the longest on records dating to 1948.
It was the first time since April that more states' unemployment rates fell than rose. But two states, South Carolina and Florida, saw joblessness reach its highest point in 25 years. And economists say most states' unemployment rates will rise as the stimulus programs wind down and seasonal jobs taper off.
"Even though things are getting better, they're not getting better fast enough to keep unemployment from rising in the next six to nine months," said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo & Co.
Vitner said he expects unemployment nationally and in most states to continue inching up before cresting in about nine months. He predicts it will be six more months before there are any consistent job gains.
In all, 19 states added jobs in November, down from 28 in October. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia suffered a net loss of jobs.
Labor said there were statistically important employment changes in four states. All four showed job losses. They are Michigan, Nevada, Mississippi and Hawaii.
The states that reported the largest jobs gains were Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Arizona and Iowa. Those shifts were not considered statistically important as a proportion of those states' large work forces.
Signs emerged in some states of people rejoining the work force to seek jobs as the economy slowly improves. Of the eight states where unemployment rose, five added jobs. All but one saw their work forces grow, indicating more people were looking for work.
The states that saw their labor forces grow faster than they could add jobs were Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia and Idaho.
"Now that the economy is stabilizing, we're seeing more people come back into the work force and looking for jobs," Vitner said. "The net effect of that is to push unemployment up."
The figures for jobs and unemployment don't always match because they come from separate reports. The unemployment rate is calculated from a survey of households. The jobs count reflects a survey of businesses.
Similarly, unemployment rates can drop when people give up looking for jobs. Of the seven states with statistically important drops in unemployment rates, five saw their labor forces shrink. They were Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, New York and Pennsylvania.
In Nebraska and Texas, unemployment fell even while people entered the labor force, a sign of relatively robust job markets.
In Texas, hiring was even across many sectors, including finance, professional and business services, education and health, hospitality and government. The only areas to lose jobs were construction; manufacturing; and trade, transportation and utilities.
Nebraska saw job growth in every sector except finance and hospitality, which declined slightly.
Florida was the only state whose unemployment rate rose significantly, to 11.5 percent from 11.3 percent. Vitner said the state's construction industry experienced a short-term boost over the summer due to a tax credit for first-time homebuyers that was set to expire in November. Congress extended the program, but people who had feared it would expire closed on their houses before November. Many related jobs have since dried up.
Since November 2008, all 50 states have seen a net loss of jobs and a rise in their unemployment rates.
November's jobs picture is bleaker than October's, in part because last month's gains were driven by a rise in temporary employment, economists said. Temporary hiring often is a sign that employers are gearing up to add full-time jobs.
But economists cautioned that October's gains might not be sustainable. They were driven by temporary demand in the auto sector to replace inventories depleted by the Cash for Clunkers rebate program.
November's falling unemployment rates are due in part to the Thanksgiving holiday. Because Thanksgiving came early this year, Vitner said, more holiday hiring than usual took place in November.
Still, the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 10 percent November from 10.2 percent in October. It was the first unemployment decline since July. Economists called it a hopeful sign that the economy is on the mend, however slowly.