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For the first time in nearly 15 years, the Michigan unemployment rate nearly matches the U.S. jobless rate. At 5.6 percent, March's jobless rate hovers just a scant tenth of a percentage point above the official U.S. average of 5.5 percent.

Even before the start of the great recession in 2007, the gap between the state and U.S. rate was nearly 2.5 full percentage points. By June 2009, six months before the recession bottomed out, Michigan's worst-in-the-nation unemployment rate of 14.9 percent was 5.4 points worse than the U.S. average.

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The last time the state rate was just one-tenth of a point worse was October 2000, and the rates last matched in September 2000.

"About a year ago the Michigan rate was a full percentage point above the national rate, and that gap has been virtually eliminated as of March," said Bruce Weaver, economic analyst with the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget.

The three-tenths of a point drop in March wasn't entirely good news, however.

The drop was a result of a total decline in the state labor force of 12,000 jobless men and women who either retired, quit looking for work, moved out of state or died.

Total employment in the state barely edged up in March, gaining just 2,000 jobs while unemployment fell by 14,000 workers, according to data released Wednesday by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget.

"The reason the rate dropped by so much wasn't from any real gain in employment, which was essentially unchanged in March," Weaver said. "But over the year the rate has fallen a full two percentage points, and that's due to significant job growth and employment gains in the state."

For the past 12 months, total employment is up by 90,000 jobs, unemployment is down by 96,000 workers, and 6,000 men and women have left the state labor force. The statewide jobless rate is based on a household survey of workers that includes the self-employed, independent contractors and other non-payroll workers. The survey of payroll jobs in March found a decline of 2,000 jobs, although the payroll level is 88,000 jobs better than it was in March 2014.

The improvements still leave Michigan's employment scene far from the boom days at the start of the millennium, when the state's 3.3 percent jobless rate was seven-tenths of a point better than the U.S. average.

boconnor@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2145

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