Updated January 28 at 6:28pm
work force

R.I. jobless rate third-worst in the U.S.

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PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island returned to having the third-worst unemployment rate in the country last month as Nevada moved to second place and Michigan stayed on top, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday.

The jobless rate in Rhode Island rose to 12.9 percent in December from 12.7 percent the prior month. Nevada’s jobless rate jumped from 12.3 percent to 13 percent, overtaking Rhode Island as second-highest.

Michigan’s rate fell to 14.6 percent but remained the worst in the nation by more than a percentage point. But that was down one-tenth of a point from the prior month and the high of 15.3 percent the state recorded in September.

Behind Nevada and Rhode Island in December were South Carolina (12.6 percent unemployment), California (12.4 percent) and Florida (11.8 percent). The national jobless rate stayed at 10 percent.

In all, 39 states lost jobs in December and 43 states saw their unemployment rates increase. (Variations in how employment is calculated can keep a state’s unemployment rate from rising even when jobs are lost.)

Employment is “still very weak, which is why we think the unemployment rate is going to continue to rise,” Marisa Di Natale, a director at Moody’s Economy.com in West Chester, Pa., told Bloomberg News before the report. “There are some states that are in pretty big trouble, fiscally speaking. 2010 is not going to be a good year.”

Rhode Island continued to be an outlier in the region last month, as the Northeast posted the nation’s lowest regional jobless rate in December at 9.2 percent.

Rhode Island lost 17,400 jobs last year, shrinking the state’s payrolls to 453,800, the lowest total number since December 1997.

The state has lost 42,600 jobs since payrolls peaked at 496,400 in January 2007, reducing employment by 8.6 percent, according to the Labor Department.

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