The state's April unemployment rate fell to 6.5% from March levels of 7.4% due to strong employment growth, according to the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development.

The monthly decrease was the largest since 1978.

Employment in Maryland increased by 67,400 to 2.419 million, which was the largest April employment gain on record. According to the department, employment rose by more than 21,400 above April 1991 levels, and came close to the prerecession count of 2.421 million in April 1990.

"This is the best economic news we've had in the state in the past two years," said Joel G. Lee, deputy secretary of economic and employment development. "A decrease in the unemployment rate of this magnitude shows clearly that Maryland is emerging from the recession. Marylanders are entering the labor market and they are finding jobs."

According to the department, there were significant gains in employment in retail trade, construction, and services.

Other economic indicators also pointed to an improving economy, the department said.

For example, the number of housing units authorized increased to 3,422 in April from 2,995 in March. In addition, average hourly wages increased 15 cents in April to $12.53.

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