California unemployment rate drops to 9.6 percent


California's 2.1-percent gain outpaces the national job growth rate of 1.5 percent.

The California Employment Development Department announced the new numbers Friday. The unemployment fell from 9.8 percent in January, after dropping below double digits this past winter.

Technology, tourism and construction sectors led the hiring surge, areas of traditional strength in California. There were 5,700 construction jobs added from January to February, signaling a renewed strength in the state housing market.

The Bay Area led the state with above-average gains, with L.A. County, Orange County and the Inland Empire experiencing year-over-year gains.

Overall, the department reported nonfarm jobs increased by 41,200 during February, bringing the state total to 14.6 million. That's compared to only 4,200 jobs gained in January.

The survey found jobs increased in the construction, financial services and leisure and hospitality sectors. But manufacturing, transportation and health services slipped over the previous month.

The number of people who are actively searching for work and considered unemployed in California fell below 1.8 million in February for the first time since January 2009. That's down from 2 million last February.

According to preliminary unadjusted rates, Colusa County has the state's highest unemployment rate at 25.9 percent. Marin County had the lowest unemployment rate in February at 5.4 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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