Mass layoffs declined in February, and 345 metro areas reported lower unemployment rates for the month of January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The February unemployment remains at 8.3%, the same as January, but declined from 9% a year ago.

Twelve of the bureau's 19 major industry sectors reported over-the-year decreases in average weekly initial claims connected with mass-layoff events, which involve the termination of 50 or more employees. The largest decrease occurred in the information sector. 

Among the states, California recorded the highest number of mass layoff initial claims in February, followed by New York, Pennsylvania and Florida. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia experienced over-the-year declines in average weekly initial claims, led by California, Florida and Indiana.

Mass layoffs in the finance and insurance category held steady at 22 events in February, the same as a year ago. Five mass layoffs occurred in the real estate, rental and leasing sector, down from seven in the year-ago period.

The professional and technical services industry also saw a decline in mass layoffs, which declined to 25 events, compared to 43 in February 2011.

Metro areas also reported improving economic conditions during the first month of the year. February statistics have not yet been released.

Unemployment rates were lower in January than a year earlier in 345 of the 372 metropolitan areas the bureau tracks. Rates rose in 16 areas, and remained unchanged in 11.

That compares to 329 metro areas reporting declining unemployment rates in the last month of 2011.

The bureau said 86 metropolitan areas reported jobless rates of at least 10%, down from 150 areas a year earlier, while 83 areas posted rates below 7% percent, an improvement from 47 areas in January 2011.

El Centro, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., recorded the highest unemployment rates in January: 26.4 and 24.5%, respectively.

Of the 49 metropolitan areas with population of 1 million or more, the highest unemployment rate in January registered in Las Vegas-Paradise at 13.1%, up from 12.7% in December.