Published: May 21, 2010 6:23 PM EDT
Updated: May 21, 2010 6:23 PM EDT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's unemployment rate improved in April for the first time in over four years, with 15,500 more workers finding jobs than those who lost them, state labor officials reported Friday.

More than 1.1 million Floridians remained jobless and the unemployment rate was 12 percent. That was slightly better than a record 12.3 percent in March, the first improvement in the state's employment numbers time since February 2006, the Agency for Workforce Innovation said.

It provided a morsel of good news for Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, who has been dealing with a recalcitrant Legislature on a variety of issues and an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico that could sully the state's beaches.

It was the first time since Crist took office in January 2007 that unemployment numbers didn't worsen. The impact of the April 20 explosion of a BP oil rig that led to millions of gallons of crude oil contaminating the Gulf and threatening the coastal areas of several coastal states was not calculated in Florida's April unemployment numbers, which remain well above the national average of 9.9 percent.

The Deepwater Horizon accident occured after AWI's survey week (April 11-17), chief economist Rebecca Rust said. But it could figure into the May figures if tourism is adversely affected by the threat of the oil coming ashore as feared by some officials.

"Florida beaches have not experienced any impact from the oil spill in the Gulf at this time, and we are continuing to work to reduce its effect on our economy," said Crist, who bolted the Republican Party last month to make an independent run for the U.S. Senate. "Florida is open for business."

Forty-five of Florida's 67 counties reported double-digit unemployment in April. Flagler County, nestled between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach on Florida's east coast, continued to suffer with the highest unemployment with 15.4 percent, an improvement over March's 16. 6 percent rate.

Rural Liberty County, located west of Tallahassee in the Panhandle and home to a state prison, had the lowest unemployment rate at 6.7 percent, also an improvement from a 7.3 percent mark in March. Most of the counties with the healthiest employment figures have more government jobs.

Earlier this month, the state's "stimulus czar," Don Winstead said unemployment would have been much worse in Florida without nearly $20 billion received from the federal government's stimulus program.

Jobless rates drop in 34 states and DC

Unemployment rates fell in a majority of states last month as improved economic conditions spurred hiring. The Labor Department says that 34 states and the District of Columbia reported their jobless rates fell in April.

Six states reported higher rates, while 10 saw unemployment hold steady. That marked an improvement from March when 16 reported declines in unemployment, 22 saw increases, and 12 had no change, according to revised figures.

South Carolina's rate fell to 11.6 percent in April, from 12.2 percent in March, marking the largest monthly drop of any state.