The unemployment picture in the Washington area worsened sharply in November.

The local jobless rate went up significantly and the decline in the actual number of jobs in the regional economy was greater than at any time since 1982, the District government reported yesterday. Nearly every statistic pointed to an economy on the decline.

The metropolitan area unemployment rate rose three-tenths of a percentage point to 3.8 percent, its highest level since August 1985, and joblessness went up in all three jurisdictions. Virginia and Maryland also reported increases in their statewide unemployment rates yesterday.

In the last 12 months, the number of unemployed persons in the metropolitan area has risen by a dramatic 54 percent, from 60,800 to 82,800. Nationwide, the comparable increase was only 15 percent.

"In the past, the national economy led the downturn. This time, we are a little bit ahead," said Richard Groner, chief of labor market information for the D.C. Department of Employment Services, which compiles the figures for the metropolitan area.

In another sign that the area economy is slipping downhill faster than the nation as a whole, local employers cut their payrolls by 14,800 jobs from November 1989 to November 1990, a decline of 0.65 percent. Over the same period, the U.S. economy registered an increase of eight-tenths of a percent in the number of jobs.

Layoffs, virtually unheard of in this area a year ago, now occur frequently and yesterday's statistics reflected a spate of decisions made by companies in the area during the fall. Peoples Drug Stores Inc., recently purchased by Melville Corp. of Harrison, N.Y., announced the layoff of 450 employees in Alexandria in November. W. Bell & Co., the Rockville-based catalogue discounter, filed for protection from its creditors at the end of last year and announced it would close four stores. The number of employees affected was not disclosed. Yesterday, Richmond-based Best Products Inc., a catalogue showroom discounter, filed for bankruptcy protection, throwing 75 headquarters employees out of work.

Small firms are struggling as well. Genex Corp., a biotechnology firm in Gaithersburg, announced plans at the end of the year to lay off half of its 65 workers.

The extensive job losses are a marked change from the mid-1980s, when the area was adding more than 100,000 new jobs each year. The region now is virtually certain to register a net decline in jobs for calendar 1990.

The job loss in the private sector has been even greater than the total, indicating that state and local government hiring offset some of the losses in the private sector. Nearly 21,000 private-sector jobs vanished in the year ending in November.

Figures for the Washington area, unlike those for the nation as a whole, are not adjusted for seasonal variations and are reported one month behind the national figures. The national unemployment rate comparable to the local statistics is 5.8 percent.

Unemployment in the District rose to 6.9 percent in November from 6.6 percent the previous month. In Virginia, unemployment increased to 4.5 percent from 4.2 percent in October. The jobless rate in Maryland rose to 5.3 percent, more than two points higher than its level of two years ago.

Staff writer Cindy Skrzycki contributed to this report.