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State jobless rate dips to lowest level since 2009 as 123,000 jobs created
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SACRAMENTO  (AP) — California's unemployment rate dipped slightly in December to 11.1 percent, its lowest rate since 2009, the state reported Friday.

The rate is two-tenths of a percentage point drop from November. Officials with the state Employment Development Department said the steady drop in the official jobless rate was a sign of gradual improvement in California's economy.

"It's pretty definitive if you look at the year over how far we've come," department spokesman Kevin Callori said. "It's definitely quite a reversal."

California's unemployment rate last fell below 11 percent in April 2009, when it was 10.9 percent.

Nonfarm payroll jobs increased by 10,700 in December, for a total gain of 240,300 jobs in 2011.

December marked the fourth consecutive month in which the employment rate has dropped, a period during which it declined a full percentage point and the state gained 112,300 payroll jobs.

"That's over four times the number we gained over the previous four months. It looks like the increase was pretty broad-based across the economy," Callori said.

December's numbers are seasonally adjusted and thus should reflect more than just a holiday season hiring bump, he said.

Job gains for all of 2011 were up 1.7 percent, compared to 0.06 percent for all of 2010 and a 5.3 percent loss in 2009, the height of the recession.

The biggest job growth in December came in construction, information, professional and business services, educational and health services, and government, with those sectors adding a combined 23,900 jobs.

Other areas, including mining and logging, manufacturing, trade, transportation and utilities, financial activities, leisure and hospitality reported a combined 13,200 fewer jobs in December.

Despite the apparent improvement, more than 2 million working-age Californians remain without jobs and the state remains well above the national jobless rate of 8.5 percent.

During the same month a year ago, California's unemployment rate was 12.5 percent. It had remained at or above 12 percent from August 2009 until April 2011, when it finally dipped below that level.

California's November jobless rate was second only to Nevada's 13 percent, according to the latest numbers posted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The nationwide numbers had not been updated for December.

The Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific offered a cautious prediction for the year ahead in a report this week. It said California now is two years into what the center predicted will be a slow five-year recovery.

Recent positive economic news has raised hopes, but a continued weak housing market, weakening demand for exports and cuts in government spending "will prevent the recovery from gathering further momentum," said the university's forecasters.

Real gross state product is projected to grow an average 2 percent this year and next, as it has for the past two years. The forecasters say growth won't exceed 3 percent until 2014 and beyond as the housing and construction industry finally begin rebounding.

The center predicted unemployment will remain in the double digits through 2013. The last time the state's jobless rate dropped lower was in January 2009, when it dipped to 9.7 percent.

Housing construction will increase modestly this year, but mostly along the coast, the center said. However, it projected that the hard-hit Central Valley will finally start to see its economy recover.