Virginia's unemployment rate climbed from 7.8 percent to 8.1 percent in November, reaching a post-World War II high for the second time in 1982.

Much of the increase was due to the seasonal search for Christmas jobs, but that came on top of unemployment from layoffs and the failure of new Virginia residents and other entrants into the work force to find jobs, said William F. Mezger of the Virginia Employment Commission.

"Unemployment has just sort of built up over the year," he said.

The 8.1 percent benchmark was reached last February, then unemployment began to decline in the spring. It reached a low of 7.1 percent in May, then began climbing again in the fall.

Even at its high-water mark, Virginia's unemployment rate still was substantially below the national unemployment level of 10.4 percent in November, state officials noted. They also noted that the spread between the national and the Virginia rates is increasing.

Northern Virginia continued to have the lowest unemployment rate in the state--4.6 percent, attesting to the extent to which the Washington metropolitan area is buffered against the effects of the recession. The highest unemployment rate was in Roanoke--8.4 percent. Roanoke has suffered factory and railroad layoffs.

The unemployment rate in the Richmond area was 6.1 percent, up from 5.9 percent the previous month. The jobless rate declined only in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Portsmouth area, dropping from 7.8 to 7.6 percent. The unemployment rate remained stable at 7 percent in the Newport News-Hampton area.

Workers seeking holiday jobs increased the state labor force by 21,100 in November. That figure was matched by only a 10,700 increase in the number of jobs. Layoffs continued to hit the state's mining, machinery, metals, electrical goods, apparel and chemistry industries.

The number of workers drawing jobless benefits increased by 3,900 in November to 68,700.