WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell in less than half of U.S. states last month, as steady but slow hiring is making only gradual improvement in the job market.
The Labor Department says that rates fell in 22 states in December and rose in 16. They were unchanged in 12. Nationwide, the rate remained 7.8 percent.
The rate is now below 7 percent in 25 states. And some of the states hardest hit in the recession have seen solid gains. Nevada's unemployment rate, the highest in the nation, plummeted 0.6 percentage points last month to 10.2 percent.
Rhode Island's unemployment rate, also 10.2 percent, dropped from 10.4 percent in November.
California has the third-highest rate, at 9.8 percent, the same as the previous month but down from 11.2 percent a year ago.