The unemployment rate rose in nearly half of the nation's 372 largest metro areas in July, as the pace of hiring slowed from earlier this year.
The Labor Department says the jobless rate rose in 176 areas, dropped in 152 and was unchanged in 44.
Despite the weak showing, that's an improvement from June, when the jobless rate rose in about three-quarters of the metro areas. But it's worse than this spring, when rates declined in more than 230 areas for three straight months.
Hiring has slowed nationwide, as businesses are increasingly unwilling to add workers, even as their profits and cash piles grow. Many economists say business executives are holding back until there is more clarity about the economic outlook.
The economy is barely growing and economists worry it won't expand fast enough to bring down the 9.5 percent national unemployment rate. On Friday, the government is expected to say that private employers added only 41,000 jobs in August, down from 71,000 the previous month.
Seventeen metro areas reported unemployment rates above 15 percent in July, up from 12 areas in June. But that's down from 28 as recently as March. Twelve of those cities were in California in July, two were in Michigan, and one each were in Arizona, Florida and Illinois.
The highest unemployment rates were in El Centro, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., at 30.3 percent and 28.7 percent respectively. The two areas are adjacent and have large numbers of migrant farm workers.
Bismarck, N.D., had the lowest jobless rate, at 3.1 percent, followed by Fargo, N.D., at 3.7 percent.
Hiring picked up this spring but has since slowed. Private employers added an average of 154,000 jobs per month from February through April, but that fell to an average of 51,000 per month from May to July.
Private employers actually cut 10,000 jobs in August, according to a survey by payroll provider ADP.
Economic growth has slowed from a 3.7 percent annual rate in the first quarter to only 1.6 percent in the April-to-June period. The economy is forecast to grow at a similarly dismal pace in the current period.
Many analysts worry the nation has entered a "growth recession," which occurs when the economy ekes out some growth but not enough to lower the unemployment rate.
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