L.A.’s jobs picture continued to brighten in February as employers added nearly 28,000 jobs to their payrolls and the jobless rate fell to 8.7 percent, according to state figures released Friday.

The countywide unemployment rate dropped from 8.9 percent in January to reach its lowest level since October 2008; a year ago, the rate was 10.2 percent, according to the state Employment Development Department.

The February decrease reflected ongoing economic growth as more residents reported finding work. In previous months, the rate drop was largely the result of people falling out of the count as their benefits expired, returned to school or gave up looking for work.

Despite the gains, the county still trailed the February statewide unemployment rate of 8 percent and remained well behind the national 6.7 percent rate. The picture was worse in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the county’s two largest cities, which both had 9.8 percent unemployment.

Meanwhile, the 27,700 jump in payroll jobs marked a turnaround from January, when the county lost 63,000 jobs, due mostly to post-holiday retail layoffs. The county had a total of just over 4.15 million jobs in February, still about 45,000 short of its all-time peak of 4.2 million jobs in early 1990.

The retail sector lost another 5,600 jobs in February, but nearly every other sector reported gains. Private educational services led the pack with 8,600 more jobs in February; professional and business services also had robust hiring, adding 7,500 jobs to payrolls. And even the government sector, after three years of budget cutbacks, began to show growth again, adding a net 5,000 jobs across local, state and federal agencies.

Over the past 12 months, employers in L.A. County have added 86,000 jobs to their payrolls, for a strong growth rate of 2.1 percent. Professional and business services reported the largest increase, adding 27,000 jobs, followed by health care/social assistance, up 22,000. The leisure and hospitality sector added 13,000 jobs, while construction added 8,000.

However, when adjusted for seasonal hiring trends, L.A. County actually shed about 12,000 payroll jobs in February, according to Jordan Levine, director of research for Beacon Economics, a Los Angeles consulting firm. Levine said many sectors did gain jobs between January and February, just not as much as the average gains in previous years.

Mara Klug, regional vice president in the Los Angeles office of Addeco, a staffing firm headquartered in Switzerland, said hiring by local companies stepped up in January and February, led by professional and business services and technology/media companies.

“We’re seeing a larger increase in full-time positions,” Klug said. As a result, she said, “Many temporary workers are now ending their assignments ahead of schedule and jumping to full-time jobs.”

The only exception, she said, was in manufacturing, where temporary hiring to handle surges in demand is still the rule. That’s no surprise, since manufacturing had the biggest decline in year-over-year employment, shedding nearly 9,000 jobs.

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