California's unemployment rate pushed lower to 7.6% in May as employers hovered on the cusp of recovering all the jobs lost during the recession.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday that California added a net 18,300 jobs last month, resulting in 15,448,000 people on nonfarm payrolls. That's 340,200 more workers on the books than a year ago and just 1,800 jobs shy of the state's employment peak in July 2007.
Back then, the California jobless rate was 5.4%. Last month, the rate fell to 7.8% -- the first time in nearly six years it was below 8%. A year ago in May, 9% of Californians in the labor force were out of work.
Economists, however, caution that the state's population has surged by more than 1 million people in the last seven years. The number of Californians working or looking for employment is rising, hitting 18,658,200 last month; that's up 4,600 from April and 44,200 from a year ago.
Some industries are driving job growth.
The leisure and hospitality sector added 10,300 workers from April for a total workforce of 1.7 million. The professional and business services headcount reached 2.4 million after 8,900 employees joined payrolls.
Manufacturing employment, however, continued to slide. The industry employed 1.2 million people in the state last month -- 6,800 fewer than in April.
California has the fifth-highest jobless rate in the country. Rhode Island tops the list with an 8.2% rate, while North Dakota's 2.6% rate is the lowest.
Nationally, 6.3% of workers are unemployed. In the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Glendale region, 8.2% job seekers are in the same boat, according to the government.