Jobless rates were lower in December than they were a year earlier in 329 of the nation's 372 metro areas, according to new statistics released Wednesday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment rose in 36 areas, and was unchanged in seven areas, the BLS reported.

Ten areas recorded jobless rates higher than 15%, while 24 areas registered rates of less than 5%. The BLS said 239 metros reported increases in nonfarm payroll employment during 2011, 127 reported decreases, and six had no change.

The national unemployment rate in December was 8.3%, not seasonally adjusted, down from 9.1% a year earlier.

El Centro, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., recorded the highest unemployment rates in December 2011, 26.8% and 23.1%, respectively. Seven of the other eight areas with jobless rates above 15% were located in California.

Bismarck, N.D., registered the lowest unemployment rate, 3.2%.

The largest over-the-year unemployment rate decreases in December were registered in Steubenville-Weirton, Ohio-W.Va. (-2.8 percentage points), and Redding, Calif. (-2.7 points). Twenty-seven other areas recorded rate declines of 2.0 percentage points or more.

Of the 49 metropolitan areas with a Census 2000 population of 1 million or more, the highest unemployment rates in December were registered in Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., 12.7%, and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., 12.2%.

kcurry@housingwire.com