LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan's unemployment rate improved in December for the third straight month, dropping slightly to 14.6 percent, state officials said Wednesday.
The new rate was down from a national high of 14.7 percent in November. The state jobless rate peaked for the year in September, when it hit 15.3 percent.
Modest recalls of laid-off auto workers and a slower pace of job loss in the service sector helped stabilize Michigan's unemployment rate in the second half of 2009. The state spent the first half watching its rate climb as the national recession worsened and General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC went through bankruptcy, causing Michigan to lose more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs.
But the losses, which averaged 33,000 jobs a month in the first half of the year, slowed to 2,000 a month in the second half.
University of Michigan economists don't expect the state to see a net increase in jobs until late 2011. So even though Michigan is starting to see a slight improvement, those seeking jobs still face many challenges.
The December labor force total of 4.8 million was the lowest level reported in 2009. It dropped by 72,000 workers -- or 1.5 percent -- since December 2008. That means there are fewer people looking for work, in part because some have left the state.
Over the past year, the number of unemployed people in Michigan increased by 205,000, a 41.3 percent rise compared with the 33.9 increase seen nationally between December 2008 and December 2009.
The national unemployment rate in December was 10 percent, unchanged from November.
The state saw its annual average unemployment rate rise from 8.4 percent in 2008 to a preliminary rate of 14 percent in 2009. That was the third-highest rate since records began being kept in 1976, topped only by 15.6 percent in 1982 and 14.6 percent in 1983. It also marked the biggest annual jump on record.
Total employment in the state dropped by 351,000 jobs in 2009. Those who lost their jobs remained unemployed for an average of 30 weeks, compared with an average of 23 weeks in 2008.
Manufacturing lost 7,000 payroll jobs in December, while construction and leisure and hospitality services each lost 3,000 jobs, and professional and business services and government lost 2,000 jobs apiece. Four thousand jobs were added in education and health services.
For the year, manufacturing lost 91,000 payroll jobs; trade, transportation and utilities, 47,000; and construction, 24,000.
Michigan's jobless rate has exceeded 10 percent since late last year. It has been the nation's highest for much of the past four years.