California employers added a net 56,100 jobs in April, helping push the unemployment rate below 8% for the first time in nearly six years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.
The state's jobless rate fell from 8.1% in March to 7.8% last month. The last time the unemployment rate was below 8% was in September 2008, when it stood at 7.9%.
"It's a huge sign of progress," said Jordan Levine, an economist at consulting firm Beacon Economics. "That suggests we'll be back at pre-recession peaks in the next few months."
Friday's report showed that California now is just 25,200 jobs shy of its previous employment peak, set in July 2007 when the unemployment rate was a healthy 5.4%.
California's population and labor force have grown since then time, accounting for the higher unemployment rate, economists said. Since July 2007, the labor force has grown by more than 760,000 people.
"There are still ongoing challenges, and that doesn't mean that everyone that was displaced will return to work .... The good news is that things are moving forward and it's a relatively broad-based recovery across sectors and geography."
April's surge in payroll employment occurred in at least six sectors, with education and health services posting the largest gain. The sector expanded by 19,400 jobs in April.
Leisure and hospitality, which has rebounded strongly since the depths of the recession, posted the next highest gain of 13,400 jobs.
The professional and business services sector, which includes high-paying jobs such as accountants and lawyers, continued its strong growth, adding 11,900 jobs. The housing recovery also helped boost hiring in construction, which added 7,100 jobs last month.
Manufacturing was flat from March to April. The government sector posted a net decline of 1,600 jobs.
Since April 2013, California payrolls have expanded 2.25%, faster than the U.S. overall. In that time, California employers have added 340,200 jobs to their workforces. Texas was the only state that added more jobs, growing by 348,000 over the same period.
Rhode Island still has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, 8.3%. North Dakota's jobless rate of 2.6% is the country's lowest Forty-three states in the U.S. saw their unemployment levels fall in April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.