LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The ranks of the unemployed are shrinking in California and state officials hope the trend could signal brighter days for the state’s sluggish economy.

KNX 1070’s Bob Brill reports 2011 ended with a sharp drop in California’s jobless rate.

The 11.1 unemployment rate in December was the lowest in California since April of 2009, according to Loree Levy of the state’s Employment Development Department.

Sectors such as construction and business services saw the biggest growth, followed by education, health services and government.

The unemployment rate has been steadily decreasing in California but still remains well above the national jobless rate of 8.5 percent.

Still, Levy said the signs are encouraging and we finally may be breaking free of the severe recession that began back in 2008.

“Back then, we lost over the year 778,000 jobs,” she said. “Compare that to where we are today in 2011, over that year we gained over 240,000 jobs, so we’re much better off than we were before.”

Economic forecasters at UCLA said in December they expect to see steady — if unspectacular — levels of growth in 2012 .

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