SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) – California’s unemployment rate dropped below 12 percent for the first time since August 2009 — another positive sign for the nation’s economy.

The figure for April was 11.9 percent, the state Employment Development Department announced Friday, marking the fourth month in a row the jobless rate has declined in the most populous state. The rate has dropped by 0.5 percentage point in a year, from 12.4 percent in April 2010.

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California payrolls showed an overall increase of about 8,900 jobs for the month.

According to Career Counselor and author Mary Eileen Williams, members of Generation Y aren’t the only one’s being hired.

“The latest statistics are showing people 55 and over are landing jobs big time,” Williams said.

The Department of Labor numbers show that in the last 15 months employers have hired 1.3 million people over the age of 55 said Williams.

Six industry sectors added jobs, with the biggest bump coming in leisure and hospitality, which added 12,400. Five sectors saw declines, with the largest drop of 11,200 jobs in government.

Stephen Levy, chief economist for the Palo Alto-based Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, said the job growth was modest and weakened by the loss of a combined 4,500 jobs in finance and construction, two sectors that have been hit hard by the housing bust and waves of foreclosures,

However, bright spots included 3,800 new manufacturing  jobs and strong gains in trade, restaurants, health services and the tourism sector, Levy said.

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He said the good news might continue into May, considering the stock market’s appetite for shares from the initial public offering of LinkedIn Corp. this week.

“The strong performance of LinkedIn shares is a positive sign for the state economy and for the possibility of one-time capital gains income to the state from IPOs,” Levy said.

Still, the added jobs represented just a tiny slice of all jobs in the California economy. The state had slightly more than 14 million nonfarm payroll jobs in April, according to a survey of businesses, and that number has increased by only about 1 percent, or 144,400 jobs, since April 2010.

Employment data can be contradictory and confusing because it is based on data collected in different ways from both employers and households. In addition, data on the jobless rate can vary when jobseekers leave the workforce to go back to school or because they become discouraged, which complicates interpretation of a changing unemployment rate.

The employer survey captures information about payroll jobs, but a separate survey of households also counts self-employed workers. That household survey for April showed an estimated 15.9 million people in California held jobs, an increase of 37,000 from March but down 21,000 since April 2010. Economists tend to rely more on the payroll data, which is based on a larger sample and considered more reliable.

Nationwide, unemployment rates fell in 39 states in April, and employers added workers in 42 states.

Businesses in the U.S. have added more than 250,000 jobs a month, on average, in the past three months, the fastest hiring spree in five years. The U.S. unemployment rate has dropped nearly a full percentage point since November, but it rose slightly in April to 9 percent, in part because bad weather slowed the hiring of farm workers.

In California, about 584,000 people were receiving regular unemployment benefits during the week in April when the employment survey was conducted. That’s down from about 631,000 in March and 729,000 in April 2010.

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