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California unemployment rate falls to 8.1 percent

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — California's unemployment rate continued its downward trend, dropping to 8.1 percent in January, even as the number of nonfarm jobs declined.

The latest jobless figure is down from 8.3 percent in December and from 9.5 percent a year earlier.

The Employment Development Department reported Friday that California saw a monthly decrease of 31,600 nonfarm payroll jobs, bringing total gains in the state to 1,171,000 since February 2010. That's when the department says the recovery from the recession began.

California's jobless rate remains above the national average of 6.6 percent.

Since January 2013, the state added 319,500 jobs, a 2.1 percent increase. That year-over-year figure shows job growth is much stronger than previously thought, said Stephen Levy, senior economist for the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto.

"That explains why the unemployment rate was coming down so steadily," he said.

Even with the declining unemployment rate, 1.5 million members of California's labor force remained without jobs in January, according to the data.

The estimated number of Californians holding jobs during January was about 17 million, an increase of 50,000 from the previous month, and a jump of 219,000 from January 2013.

The state's unemployment rate had risen to double digits during the recession and was at 9 percent or higher for five years until May 2013.

Higher-wage sectors such as manufacturing, finance and health services saw increases over the month, gaining 14,900 jobs. One category, mining and logging, was unchanged.

Five sectors including construction, government and leisure and hospitality reported declines over the month, down 46,500 jobs. Trade, transportation and utilities posted the largest decrease.

Unemployment rates were generally higher in California's interior counties, primarily those dependent on farming. Imperial County, along the Mexican border, and Colusa County, north of Sacramento, had by far the state's highest unemployment rates, at 22 percent and 25.9 percent, respectively.

Marin and San Mateo counties had the lowest unemployment rates, each below 5 percent.

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