(Reuters) - Atlantic County, home of New Jersey's struggling gambling hub Atlantic City, lost a higher percentage of jobs last year than any other big county in the United States, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed on Wednesday.

Among the largest 339 U.S. counties, Atlantic suffered the steepest drop, a 5 percent decline in employment year-over-year through December 2014, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages showed.

In the United States overall, employment was 2.2 percent higher for the year ending in the fourth quarter, the BLS said, and it rose in 319 of the counties.

Four Atlantic City's 12 casinos closed last year, and the ripple effects hit nearby businesses. Leisure and hospitality had the biggest drop in employment within Atlantic County, with a loss of 7,333 jobs, a decline of nearly 17 percent.

Average weekly wages in Atlantic County rose 7 percent over the same period, partly because the lost leisure and hospitality jobs were lower wage positions.

Total wages in the county also grew last year as other higher-paying industries added jobs. For instance, the health care and social assistance sectors together added nearly 500 employees, said BLS economist Bruce Bergman. Wholesale trade, transportation and construction also had higher average weekly wages.

"In Atlantic County, total quarterly wages grew by $15 million over the year, even with a 5 percent loss in employment," Bergman said by email.

Norfolk City, Virginia had the second biggest percentage employment decline, followed by three Illinois areas: McLean, Peoria and Lake.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by David Gregorio)