WASHINGTON (AP) - Jobs are hard to come by in every U.S. city, but you stand a better chance of getting hired if you live in Washington, Dallas or Boston.
Those three metropolitan areas topped the rest of the nation's cities in jobs added in 2010.
And all three are home to industries that are poised to hire this year. Information technology companies, biomedical research firms and government contractors are growing industries that are likely to add to their payrolls in the coming months - and the federal government has plenty of jobs listed, too.
The unemployment rate fell in 207 of the 372 largest metro areas in December, the most to report a decline since Septem-ber. It rose in 122 areas and was the same in 43, the Labor Department said Wednesday.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate dropped sharply in December to 9.4 percent from 9.8 percent. About half that decline was because more unemployed workers gave up on their job searches. The government doesn't count people as unemployed when they stop looking for work. The metro data lags behind the national data by several weeks.
The largest generators of net jobs were Washington, Dallas-Fort Worth, Boston, Phoenix, Ariz., and Minneapolis-St. Paul. All five metro areas have unemployment rates below the national average.
Boston, Dallas and Washington are among the top ten areas with the most online job ads in January, according to the Conference Board's help wanted online index.
All three have benefited from growth in the information technology sector, economists said. Companies like Intel, which has a plant in the Boston region, are producing more semiconductors, and computer makers have also boosted output. Corporations are investing more in computer networking and data storage equipment.
That's helped companies like EMC Corp., which is based in the Boston area and makes data storage network equipment, and Dallas-based chipmaker Texas Instruments.
"Those sectors have bounced back much better" than struggling areas like housing or auto production, said Alan Clayton-Matthews, an economist at Northeastern University.
The Washington metro area, which includes suburbs in Maryland and Northern Virginia, has also benefited from accelerated hiring by the federal government. The area added 57,500 jobs last year, the most of any city. The region's unemployment rate fell to 5.7 percent in December - the lowest unemployment rate among major metro areas.
"The first thing I would point to is the federal government," said Sara Kline, a regional economist with Moody's Analytics. Federal employment in the region grew 3.7 percent in 2010, she said, compared to a 1 percent increase nationwide.
That doesn't include jobs created indirectly by government contractors, which are prominent in Washington's Virginia suburbs. And Maryland is also a burgeoning source of biotech and medical research jobs, anchored by the government's National Institutes of Health, a collection of research labs based in Bethesda, Md.
"It is a fairly diverse economy," Kline said, even with the predominance of government.
While job growth is expected to continue for the region in 2011, the prospect of government budget cuts could limit job growth starting in 2012.
The airline and shipping industries have given a lift the Dallas Fort-Worth area, which is a regional transport hub and home to Southwest Airlines Co. and AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines. Package delivery company UPS has a hub at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. It has benefited from a rebound in business travel and shipping, said Steve Cochrane, an economist at Moody's Analytics.
The city has also profited from rising oil and gas prices, which have been a boon to the state's oil industry.
The Dallas metro area added 36,700 jobs last year, and its unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent from 8 percent.
Like the Washington area, Boston has also benefited from growth in biotech firms like Genzyme Corp., located in nearby Cambridge. The Boston metro area added 32,600 jobs last year, the third-most of any city. Its unemployment rate plummeted to 7.1 percent in December 2010, down from 8.3 percent a year earlier.
Unlike the national report, the metro figures aren't seasonally adjusted to account for trends such as the hiring of agricultural workers for fall harvests, or the layoff of temporary retail employees after the winter holidays. That makes the data more volatile from month to month.
Fourteen areas recorded unemployment rates of at least 15 percent, 12 of them in California. Unemployment topped 10 percent in 109 areas, down from 114 the previous month. That's also below the 140 areas with 10 percent unemployment or higher a year earlier.
For all of 2010, unemployment dropped in 238 metro areas, while it rose in 115 and remained the same in 49.
El Centro, Calif. had the highest unemployment rate in December, at 28.3 percent. It was followed by Yuma, Ariz., with 23.2 percent. The two areas are adjacent with a high concentration of migrant farm workers.
Lincoln, Neb. had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.5 percent. It was followed by Bismarck, N.D. and Fargo, N.D. at 3.9 percent and 4 percent, respectively.