California's economy perked up in February, adding 58,800 net new jobs and gaining some momentum after a lackluster showing the month before.
The job gains helped push the unemployment rate down to 8% from 8.1% in January, the state's Employment Development Department reported Friday.
"California employment is coming back very nicely after a bump in the month of January," said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at Cal State Channel Islands. "We are seeing more and more cylinders in the economic engine firing."
Economists had worried that a surprising loss of jobs in January spelled trouble for this year, but many now dismiss those results as an anomaly.
California captured about a third of the jobs created in the nation in February, and the state continues to outpace the country; its payrolls grew 2.2% in the last year, compared with 1.6% for the U.S. overall.
Some 36,000 workers also entered the labor force last month, a sign that people were encouraged enough by the economic recovery to start hunting for jobs again. It's a positive change from months past, when the jobless rate sometimes fell because workers gave up looking for jobs altogether.
"We are getting back on track," said Esmael Adibi, director of Chapman University's A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research. "The unemployment rate is dropping for a good reason."
Adibi predicts that job growth will rise to 2.7% year over year in 2014.
That's good news for Shane Kennedy, who moved to Los Angeles from Connecticut last month to pursue his dreams of working in the fashion industry. The 46-year-old is living off savings from his former job as a production assistant at a radio station, but he is confident that he will land a good job.
"There are enough postings out there that I am being picky about which ones to apply to and spend time on," the Koreatown resident said. "It's time consuming, but I'll definitely find something."
In February, nine of 11 employment sectors reported payroll gains.
Educational and health services posted the biggest jump with 15,800 jobs. Construction, which has enjoyed the biggest growth in the last year, reported an increase of 14,100 jobs. Leisure and hospitality, which has benefited from a boom in tourism, came in third with a gain of 9,300 positions.
The largest job loss was in manufacturing, which cut 2,600 positions. An additional 200 jobs were slashed in the "other services" sector, which includes jobs such as hairstylist and car mechanic.
California's performance last month was in line with the U.S. overall, which added 175,000 net new jobs in February despite bad weather.
The Golden State has now added about 1.23 million jobs since the recovery began in February 2010. By year's end, the unemployment rate should fall to 7.7%, which is the state's average rate since 1990, said Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
The wide variety of industries experiencing a surge in jobs indicates that California is adding well-paid, professional positions along with minimum-wage ones, Kleinhenz said. "These are all good signs that the state economy is much more fully on the mend than we had previously thought."
In Southern California, there were job gains throughout much of the region.
Los Angeles County added 27,700 nonfarm jobs, and its jobless rate fell to 8.7% from 8.9% in January. Orange County's payrolls added 8,400 positions, and its unemployment rate held steady at 5.8%.
Riverside and San Bernardino counties combined added 4,900 jobs, and their jobless rate fell to 9.4% from 9.5%, while San Diego County gained 9,500 jobs and its unemployment rate was 7%, unchanged from January.
The unemployment rates for California and L.A. County are seasonally adjusted. Those for Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties are not.