SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California's unemployment rate fell to 11.3 percent in November, the lowest it has been since May 2009, state officials said Friday. There was only minimal job growth in that time, however, indicating that the state still has a long way to go before its economic woes are over.
Only 6,600 new jobs were added in November, a key barometer, California's Employment Development Department said.
"Basically this is an OK jobs report ... we're just seeing slow progress," said Kimberly Ritter, an economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. "At least we can say it's steady. It looks like the labor markets are on the road to recovery."
The figures show California added about 18,000 jobs in trade, transportation and utilities, but they were offset by 28,000 lost jobs in construction, manufacturing and professional and business services.
That followed an overall gain of 37,600 California jobs in October -- a rosy figure that was revised upward from the previous month's release. The unemployment rate in October was 11.7 percent.
California's unemployment rate was stuck near 12.5 percent for most of 2010, and the last time it fell below 11.3 percent was in May 2009. In November 2010, California's unemployment rate was 12.5 percent.
"We're certainly on the right path," said Michael Bernick, a former director of EDD who is now a fellow at the Milken Institute.
California has gained more than 211,000 jobs since the start of 2011, but the number of adults considered to be in the labor force has fallen. Manufacturing was the one area of the economy that posted job declines over the last year, losing about 100 net jobs.
Steve Levy, an economist with the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, said the state's urban coastal regions continue to lead the economic comeback, benefiting from the growth in technology, trade and tourism.
The San Jose and San Diego metro areas are the leading large employment centers in percentage job gains, followed closely by San Francisco, Levy said.
Still, more than 2 million people remain out of work in California -- much higher in some areas of the state that are still struggling to recover from the housing bust and decline in manufacturing.
Imperial County, along the Mexican border, had an unemployment rate of 27.2 percent, the highest in the state, lower than the 30.4 percent the month before. The lowest unemployment rate was in affluent Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area, at 6.9 percent.
The unemployed face another possible hit come Jan. 1, but U.S. Senate leaders reached a tentative deal on jobless benefits Friday night.
President Barack Obama wants to leave in place the current maximum of 99 weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed. A payroll tax cut bill approved by the House reduces that total by 20 weeks, which the administration says would cut off 3.3 million individuals nationwide. Democrats were hoping to soften if not reverse what's in the House version.
Any deal would also require House passage before it could reach Obama's desk.
Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent in November.
EDD estimates that about 16.1 million Californians had jobs in November, an increase of 116,000 from October, and up 246,000 from the employment total in November of last year.
But there is still a long way to go before jobs are restored to pre-recession levels, noted Levy.
"November's good news is tempered by the realization that there are still 1 million jobs to recover in California from before the recession and that the process of recovery is under way but still much slower than hoped for or needed," he said.