Unemployment rates fell or remained level in three-quarters of the 372 largest metropolitan areas, a sign that the economic recovery is widespread.
The Labor Department said Wednesday the jobless rate dropped in 69 percent of metro areas last month from February. It rose in 24 percent of large cities and remained the same in the rest.
That's an improvement from February, when the unemployment rate decreased in 51 percent of metro areas and increased in one-third.
The report follows other recent encouraging news about jobs. Employers added 162,000 jobs in March, the government said earlier this month, the most significant gain in three years.
Still, the growth wasn't enough to bring down the unemployment rate, which remained at 9.7 percent for the third straight month.
The metro unemployment data isn't seasonally adjusted and can be volatile from month to month. Some of the cities with sharp drops last month in unemployment recorded big increases in February. That could reflect the impact of February's massive snowstorms, economists said.
Steven Cochrane, managing director at Moody's Analytics, said Wednesday's report shows employment nationwide is stabilizing.
"The recovery really is spreading broadly across the country," Cochrane said. "I'm not seeing any regional clusters ... that look like they're shifting relative to others."
Year-over-year figures, which cancel out seasonal variations, also show improvement. But they also illustrate how far much of the country has to go to recover from the recession.
The jobless rate dropped in only 41 metro areas in March compared to the previous year, while rising in 321. As recently as December, the unemployment rate fell in only one area compared to a year earlier.
The report shows unemployment is still widespread. Twenty-eight cities reported jobless rates above 15 percent, compared to 29 in February. Fifteen of those cities were in California and five were in Michigan.
Unemployment topped 10 percent in 164 cities last month, down from 187 in both January and February.
Among the 49 cities with a population of 1 million or more, the Detroit metro area had the highest unemployment rate, the department said, at 15.5 percent. The Riverside, Calif. metro area had the second highest, at 15 percent.
The New Orleans metro area had the lowest rate among cities with 1 million or more, at 6 percent, followed by Oklahoma City at 6.1 percent. Both regions have benefited from higher oil prices in recent months. New Orleans' port has seen a jump in international trade.
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