SACRAMENTO (AP) — California’s unemployment rate hit 7.6 percent in May, maintaining its steady decline past pre-recession levels, the state Employment Development Department reported on Friday.

The jobless rate hit a key threshold in April, falling to its lowest point in six years at 7.8 percent. The unemployment rate has been steadily declining since reaching a 12.4 percent peak in October 2010.

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Unemployment remains above the national average of 6.3 percent. But Stephen Levy, director of Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, says the latest report shows California continuing to outpace the nation in job growth and unemployment reduction.

More than 1.4 million Californians were out of work in May, a drop of a quarter million people over the last year. The unemployment rate had fallen from 9 percent in the same period. People who stopped looking for work are not considered unemployed, while certain people in unstable temporary or contract positions are considered employed.

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In May, California gained 18,300 jobs. More than 10,000 of those were in the leisure and hospitality businesses, but other sectors posted losses including 6,800 manufacturing jobs. Other fields reporting new positions include professional and business services, educational and health services, construction and government.

San Francisco Bay Area counties continue to lead the state in lowest unemployment rates, while rural counties continue to post the highest jobless figures. Marin County reported the lowest unemployment rate at 3.8 percent, while Imperial County by the Mexican border reported the highest at 21.1 percent.

The job figures are calculated using separate surveys of households and employers.

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