Employers in Los Angeles County added nearly 19,000 jobs in March, led by a rebound in local government services, according to state figures released Friday.

Meanwhile, the county’s unemployment rate remained unchanged from the prior month at 8.7 percent as more county residents re-entered the labor force looking for work. The rate is down from 10.1 percent a year ago, according to the figures from the state Employment Development Department.

The county’s unemployment rate is still higher than the statewide rate for March of 8.1 percent, although that gap is narrower than in previous months. And it’s still much higher than the 6.7 percent tally nationwide.

The county’s two largest cities, Los Angeles and Long Beach, reported unemployment rates of 9.7 percent and 9.6 percent respectively.

Better news could be found on the payroll jobs front, as employers added 18,900 jobs to bring the countywide total of just over 4.17 million. That’s just 26,000 jobs shy of the all-time payroll peak of 4.2 million jobs reached in early 1990. The county, of course, is more populous than it was nearly 25 years ago.

The job gains were spread across a broad range of industries, led by the government sector. After years of sharp budget cutbacks, local governments added 5,000 jobs to their payrolls. Health and social assistance services, entertainment and construction also reported modest gains.

Only the goods movement and manufacturing sectors registered significant job losses, of roughly 2,000 jobs and 1,500 jobs respectively.

Over the past 12 months, the county has added 87,500 jobs for a robust growth rate of 2.1 percent. The gains were led by a huge increase of 28,000 professional/business services jobs, followed by health care/social assistance (23,000) and construction (10,000).

On the ground, these job gains have given job candidates more power, especially those already working who are looking for better jobs.

“A year ago, the employer was in control; now employee is in control,” said Brandi Britton, Los Angeles district manager for Robert Half International, a San Mateo employment services firm. “Now, many applicants have two to three options available; a year ago, it was the other way around.”

Britton added that the recent gains in health care jobs have been driven by implementation of the reforms in the Affordable Care Act and a deadline to switch to new medical billing codes.

On the flip side, manufacturing employment continued its long-term slide, shedding more than 10,000 jobs over the past year.

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