By Karl Henkel | The Detroit News

Michigan’s April unemployment rate fell by two-tenths of a percentage point, down to 8.3 percent from the March rate of 8.5 percent, thanks to a stable workforce and a growing number of residents finding jobs.

April’s rate, down more than two full percentage points from the same month last year, is the lowest for the state since July 2008, when the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent.

“The first four months of 2012 have been positive for Michigan’s labor market,” said Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. “Early 2012 has been marked by monthly employment gains and stable labor force levels.”

Payroll jobs rose by 5,000 to 3.98 million in April, and total employment increased by 11,000, according to data released Wednesday by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget.

The number of jobless workers declined by 8,000 for the month and the state labor force — everyone with a job or looking for one — climbed by 3,000, the state said.

While the job outlook improved in April, economists see some concerns on the horizon.

“Signs are trending upward at this point at a relatively slower pace than in the first quarter,” said David Littmann, senior economist at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “We’ll get some improvement with some of the reductions in gasoline prices to restore a little bit of purchasing power, but the great uncertainties are still out there getting worse.”

Those economic uncertainties, however, will come from outside Michigan.

Federal deficits, inflation, health care reform and the European debt crisis will create chaos for the national economy, and, in turn, hamper Michigan’s economic revival, Littmann said.

Littmann said Michigan has two key economic growth areas: automobile sales (buoyed by pent-up consumer demand) and improving home prices. Improvements in both areas will continue in the coming months and provide a stable base for further growth.

“Those two industries in particular are the ones to watch for some degree of economic improvement over the next six months,” he said.

Michigan’s April jobless rate is slightly higher than the national unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, but statistics show the number of unemployed is decreasing faster in Michigan compared with the rest of the nation.

During the past year, the number of unemployed Michiganians fell by 102,000 — nearly 21 percent — compared with a decline of about 9 percent nationally during the same period.

In Metro Detroit, however, the unemployment rate remains higher than state and national averages.

The April unemployment rate for the Detroit-Warren-Livonia metropolitan statistical area was 9.2 percent, down from 9.4 percent in March and a 1.5 percentage point drop compared to last April.

But the number of employed residents actually declined in the area from March to April because the civilian labor force lost 10,000 potential workers. It was the first time in eight months the area experienced an employment decline.

The Department of Technology, Management & Budget attributed the employment slip to a decline in manufacturing jobs, brought on by short-term layoffs in the auto industry.
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