FITFUL PROGRESS: Unemployment rates fell in less than half of U.S. states in December — 22 — as steady but slow hiring is making only gradual improvement in the job market. Rates rose in 16 states and held steady in 12.

BIG STRIDES: Nevada's unemployment rate, the highest in the nation, dropped 0.6 percentage point to 10.2 percent. Its decline from 13 percent a year ago was the biggest in the nation. Rhode Island's rate also fell to 10.2 percent, down from 10.4 percent in November.

STAYING BUSY: North Dakota reported the nation's lowest unemployment rate., at 3.2 percent. Nebraska had the second-lowest rate, at 3.7 percent, followed by South Dakota at 4.4 percent.