BALTIMORE -- Maryland's jobless rate dipped to 3.9 percent in May, falling to less than 4 percent for the first time since May 1974, state officials said last week.

Maryland's Economic and Employment Development Department reported the state's unemployment rate in April was 4.2 percent and the national rate in May was 6.1 percent.

Officials attributed the improvement to warm weather and summer job opportunities and Maryland's healthy labor market.

"Maryland workers are fortunate that we have a diverse economy which offers a wide variety of industrial employment opportunities, year-round seasonal activities and federal government employment," DEED Secretary J. Randall Evans said in a prepared statement.

Unemployment rates ranged from a high of 8.1 percent in Allegany County to a low of 2.1 percent in Howard County.

The jobless rate in the Baltimore metro area declined from 4.5 percent in April to 4.3 percent in May. Baltimore city's jobless rate was 6.6 percent, down from 7.9 percent the same month a year ago.

"It's really unusual for an eastern city of this size to be just 0.5 percent off the national rate," said Luther Starnes, DEED spokesman.

In the Maryland suburbs of Washington, the unemployment level dropped from 3.1 percent to 2.9 percent.

An increase of jobs in Western Maryland's industrial payrolls helped to reduce the area's jobless rate from 7.2 percent in April to 6.7 percent in May.

Officials said the unemployment picture on the Eastern Shore continued to show improvement, with the jobless rate declining from 5.7 percent in April to 4.7 percent in May.

Statistics showed Baltimore's unemployment rate for May was 6.6 percent, down from 6.8 percent in April; Anne Arundel County, 3.1, 3.1; Baltimore County, 3.7, 3.9; Howard, 2.1, 2.3; Charles, 2.7, 2.8; Frederick, 3.9, 4.4; Montgomery, 2.3, 2.4; and Prince George's, 3.3, 3.4