An unemployed man looks at job listings. Maryland and Virginia began seeing their jobless levels decline with regularity before the U.S. rate dropped(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) (Paul Sakuma/AP)

The unemployment rate in March remained steady in the District and dropped in Maryland and Virginia, according to Labor Department data released Tuesday. The data show consistent job growth over time, but jobless rates are far from pre-recession levels.

The D.C. unemployment rate remained at 9.5 percent in March for the second consecutive month, after having fallen from 9.6 percent in January. Maryland’s decreased to 6.9 percent from 7.1 percent; Virginia’s to 6.3 percent from 6.4 percent.

Maryland and Virginia began to regularly see their jobless levels decline before the U.S. rate dropped, reflecting earlier signs of recovery, but now the national level is falling in tandem with the two states. The U.S. unemployment rate decreased to 8.8 percent from 8.9 percent in March.

Analysts said they continue to see positive signs in Maryland and Virginia of a declining jobless rate and growing labor force, evidence that more unemployed people are resuming their search for work and finding it. Although the District has experienced a similar trend during the past year, the city’s progress on both fronts stalled in March.

“It was kind of a non-event for the District — the unemployment rate didn’t change and the size of the labor force didn’t change,” said Sara Kline, associate economist at Moody’s Analytics, adding that the number of unemployed grew by 200. “I wouldn’t classify it as good or bad, just trucking along.”

The city saw net losses in education and health, down 1,300 jobs; financial services, down 300 jobs; and construction, down 200 jobs.

Sectors that experienced a net gain in jobs -included professional and business services, up 700; retail, up 200; government, up 100; and leisure and hospitality, up 100.

The gains correlate to the sectors in which the city’s Department of Employment Services is “devoting workforce resources,” agency spokesman Neville Waters said in an e-mail.

Maryland’s labor force grew by 9,000, and the number of unemployed people dropped by 2,900.

The state experienced net gains in leisure and hospitality, up 700; and manufacturing, up 300. But those gains were offset by numerous net losses: retail, down 2,400; construction, down 2,000; and education and health, down 1,000.

State officials attributed the losses in part to rising gas prices. They also said the survey of employers may not be picking up job gains among some groups. “The establishment survey excludes self-employed and sole proprietors,” Tim Bibo, research analyst with the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said in a conference call. People in that category wouldn’t “show up in the job survey.”

Virginia’s labor force grew by 8,500, and its unemployed population fell by 4,749.

The state experienced a net loss in leisure and hospitality, down 1,400 jobs; manufacturing, down 1,000; and construction, down 400. Sectors that saw net gains were education and health, up 5,700; government, up 2,000; and professional and business services, up 1,400.

Unemployment rates in the three jurisdictions have fallen dramatically from a year ago — 10.1 percent in the District, 7.6 percent in Maryland, and 7.1 percent in Virginia — reflecting an uptick in hiring.

Still, Kline asserts that even at this pace it will take a few years for the United States and the three jurisdictions to reach the unemployment levels of December 2007, before the effects of the recession kicked in. Unemployment rates then were 5 percent nationally, 5.5 percent in the District, 3.6 percent in Maryland, and 3.3 percent in Virginia.

“We will see steady progress and improvement over the next few years,” Kline said. “We’re looking for the [5.5 percent rate in the U.S.] in 2014.”

“I’d say the rates will fall ever-so-slightly faster in the D.C. area because, in general, the recession wasn’t quite as bad,” Kline said, adding that the District, Maryland and Virginia probably will see pre-recession jobless rates at the end of 2013.

In the data released Tuesday, Nevada had the highest unemployment rate at 13.2 percent. North Dakota had the lowest, 3.6 percent.