AUGUSTA — The Maine Labor Department says the state’s unemployment rate was 7.7 percent in May, up slightly from 7.6 percent in April.

But the preliminary figures released today also say May’s rate was lower than the 8 percent of a year ago. The number of unemployed people in Maine totaled 53,800 in May, down 2,100 from a year ago.

Labor officials say May’s unemployment rates were lower than the statewide average in all three metropolitan areas, which encompass the Portland area, Bangor and Lewiston-Auburn.

Nationwide, unemployment rates fell in fewer than half of U.S. states, a sign that job growth has slowed in many parts of the country.

The unemployment rates dropped in 24 states, the Labor Department said today. Rates rose in 13 states and Washington, D.C,, and were flat in 13. That’s a significant decline from April, when 39 states reported falling unemployment rates.

The changing trend in state unemployment rates reflect a weaker economy that has been hampered by high gas prices and lower factory output. Nationally, employers added a net gain of only 54,000 jobs in May, compared to an average of 220,000 per month in the previous three months. The U.S. unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 percent.

Only 22 states reported a net gain in jobs in May, while 27 states lost jobs. That’s much worse than April, when 42 states gained jobs.

California, New York and Pennsylvania reported large job losses, partly reversing gains earlier this year. California said employers cut 29,200 jobs last month, with big losses in professional and business services, which includes accounting, engineering, and temporary services. The construction sector also lost jobs.

New York said employers cut 24,700 jobs and Pennsylvania reported a drop of 14,200 jobs.

Florida, meanwhile, reported the biggest job gains. Employers in the Sunshine State added a net total of 28,000 positions. The state’s unemployment rate dropped for the fifth straight month to 10.6 percent. The gains were mostly in education and health services and in leisure and hospitality, which includes amusement parks, hotels and restaurants.

Earlier this year economists had expected much stronger job growth. But a payroll tax cut enacted in December hasn’t spurred the additional consumer spending that many economists expected. And Americans have had to spend most of the extra money to pay higher prices for food and gas.

Nevada had the highest unemployment rate among the states, at 12.1 percent, though that was down sharply from April’s 12.5 percent. California had the second-highest rate, at 11.7 percent, down from 11.8, followed by Rhode Island at 10.9 percent, which was unchanged.