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Unemployment rates fell in 21 states last month and joblessness in 24 states was significantly below the U.S. rate of 6.7%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.

Rates increased in 17 states and the District of Columbia and 12 states had no change from February.

Rhode Island's 8.7% rate was the nation's highest. North Dakota, benefiting from a boom in oil and gas production there, continued to have the lowest — 2.6%.

Three southeastern states led the nation in job gains compared with February. Florida, where unemployment has fallen to 6.3% from 7.7% a year ago, gained 22,900 jobs. Second was North Carolina, up 19,400 jobs. Georgia was third with 14,600.

Unemployment rates have fallen sharply in all three states since March 2013. Florida has dropped from 7.7% to 6.3%. North Carolina's jobless rate is 6.3%, down from 8.5%. Georgia's is 7%, down from 8.4% a year ago.

A similar shift has unfolded in South Carolina. Its unemployment rate a year ago 8.0% and last month it was 5.5%. The state's employment rose by 10,200 jobs from February.

Over the past year, the improving U.S. economy has touched almost every state's job market. Employment is up in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Forty-six states and the District have lower unemployment rates than in March 2013.

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