By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell below 7 percent in a majority of U.S. cities in November, suggesting steady job gains are benefiting most parts of the country.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that rates fell in November from October in 215 of the 372 largest metro areas. Rates were unchanged in 33 and rose in 124.
Rates dropped below 7 percent in 192 cities. That's the first time since the recession ended that more than half of large cities had rates below that threshold. And 52 had rates below 5 percent.
Major metropolitan areas with low unemployment rates in November included: Oklahoma City, 4.5 percent; New Orleans, 4.7 percent; Washington, 5 percent; and Phoenix, 6.5 percent.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate ticked down to 7.8 percent in November from 7.9 percent the previous month. That occurred mostly because more Americans out of work gave up looking for jobs and were not counted as unemployed.
Employers added jobs in nearly three-quarters of metro areas in November compared with the same month a year ago. The job gains are compiled from a survey of company payrolls, while the unemployment rates come from a second survey of households.
The drop in unemployment rates will probably be reversed in the coming months because temporary workers hired by retailers, shipping companies and other employers are likely to be laid off. Unlike the national data, the metro unemployment rates are not adjusted for seasonal trends. So they tend to be more volatile from month to month.
There are still pockets of high unemployment, but they are dwindling. In November, 29 cities reported unemployment rates of 10 percent or higher. That's down from 35 in October and much lower than 68 cities a year ago.
Bismarck, N.D. recorded the lowest unemployment rate, at 2.6 percent. The area is benefiting from an oil and gas drilling boom.
The boom has benefited other cities in the region. Fargo, N.D. has the second-lowest rate, at 3 percent.
Yuma, Ariz. and El Centro, Calif. reported the highest rates, at 27.5 percent and 26.6 percent, respectively. The two cities have high concentrations of migrant farm workers.