MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's unemployment rate dropped to 3.6% last month, and a hiring surging prompted by renewed business activity as the pandemic eases is driving up wages in the state, labor officials said Friday.

The preliminary, seasonally adjusted jobless rate for April was 3.6%, down a bit from March and nearly 10 percentage points below April 2020, when shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus outbreak decimated businesses. The number represents about 80,000 unemployed people statewide compared to nearly 290,000 at the same time a year ago.

The number of people employed increased by 253,632 over the year to 2.2 million, according to a statement from the Alabama Department of Labor.

With more open jobs than unemployed people, average weekly earnings for business rose to $968 in April, up more than $67 over the year.

“Wage growth is astounding in Alabama,” said Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We hit record highs in both hourly and weekly wages for all sectors, and the leisure and hospitality sector, which has been clamoring for workers, also hit record highs. Employers in Alabama are responding to labor shortages by raising wages, as to be expected.”

Shelby County in metro Birmingham had the lowest jobless rate at 1.9%, followed by Marshall, Limestone and DeKalb counties at 2%. Rural Wilcox County in Alabama's Black Belt region had the highest unemployment in the state at 8.8%, followed by neighboring Lowndes County at 8.1%.