(The Center Square) – The California economy gained 141,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in February, according to the state Employment Development Department. The unemployment rate in the Golden State fell 0.5 percentage points to 8.5% in February, compared with 6.2% in the U.S.

The California EDD data is derived from two separate labor market surveys, that of businesses and households, respectively.

The California unemployment rate was 4.3% in February 2020, a month before the pandemic hit. There were 17,660,900 payroll jobs in February 2020 compared with 15,857,900 in January 2021 and 15,998,900 this February. In February, seven of California’s 11 industry sectors added jobs versus the six sectors that increased employment in January.

The leisure and hospitality sector led the way with 102,200 new hires in February, reversing January’s 70,600 job losses. Full-service restaurants in big part drove the spike in leisure and hospitality hiring, according to the EDD. California’s leisure and hospitality employment gains followed the national trend.

Other services added 14,100 new hires in February, having lost 452,400 for the year. Education and health services gained 13,000 jobs, after losing 2,737,500 jobs over the last year. Government payrolls shed 6,000 jobs in February from census and postal worker reductions, according to the EDD.

The loosening of restrictive government-mandated business closures have pumped up the February employment numbers.

There have been 21.3 million unemployment insurance claims filed since March 2020, with $132 billion in benefits paid. According to the EDD, it paid 81.9% of unemployment claims within one week of receiving an initial certification. There remain, however, a backlog of 152,044 claims past 21 days pending EDD action.

“This month marks the lowest unemployment rate California has seen since the onset of the pandemic last year,” California Labor Secretary Julie A. Su said in a joint statement with the director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Dee Dee Myers.

Labor force instability has hit some worker groups harder than others over the past year.

“Latino and Asian American workers have been hard hit on the front lines as essential workers,” according to Su and Myers. “African Americans have applied for unemployment benefits at astounding rates, further evidence of the inequities we must address to ensure a strong, equitable recovery.”