NEW YORK, Jan 7 - A monthly barometer of online U.S. employment demand fell in December from November amid a year-end pause in recruitment activity, a private research group said on Thursday.

Monster Worldwide Inc MNST.O, an online careers and recruiting firm, said its employment index fell to 115 points in December, the lowest in five months. The index was 119 in November.

The current month's reading is 12 percent below the 131 mark a year ago. The year-over-year decline was the smallest in the past 18 months.

The decline in the Index during December is typical due to end-of-year seasonality. However, the improvement in the annual rate of decline lends evidence to a slight firming in underlying employer demand for workers at the end of the year, said Jesse Harriott, a senior vice president at Monster.

The Monster figures came a day after the ADP National Employment Report that showed a 84,000 loss of private sector jobs in December, the smallest decline since March 2008. For more, see [ID:nN06134559]

The U.S. Labor Department will release its weekly readings on claims for jobless benefits later Thursday and its monthly payroll report on Friday.

The Monster index recorded increases in only three of 20 industries and six of 23 occupations in the last month.

Online job demand fell in all nine U.S. census regions, with New England posting the biggest drop. Online worker demand in Massachusetts slipped to a five-year low, Monster said.

The Monster Employment index is a monthly analysis based on a selection of corporate career sites and job boards. The margin of error is approximately plus or minus 1 percent.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Diane Craft)