When the seasonal smoke cleared last month, more Sacramento-area residents and Californians found themselves employed.
The Sacramento-area unemployment rate saw a particularly significant drop, falling to 9.6 percent in February after coming in at a revised 10.3 percent in January, according to data released Friday by the California Employment Development Department.
The February percentage was well below the year-ago estimate of 11.2 percent.
Meanwhile, EDD said California's jobless rate, stuck at 9.8 percent for three months, decreased to 9.6 percent in February.
That was the lowest since December 2008, when it was 9.2 percent. By January 2009, with the recession in full swing, it was 9.7 percent.
Regionally, EDD said the unemployment rate was 9.5 percent in Sacramento County, 9.6 percent in El Dorado County, 8.3 percent in Placer County and 12.1 percent in Yolo County.
Between January and February, total wage and salary employment in the counties of Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo increased 6,300 to 830,300 jobs.
In the area, leisure and hospitality added 2,400 jobs, professional and business services gained 2,300 jobs and government picked up 1,700 positions. Two area industries declined over one month: Trade, transportation and utilities lost 2,500 jobs, and financial activities cut back 800 jobs.
Sacramento's December-to-January jobless rate hike from 9.7 percent to 10.3 percent was blamed on "seasonal" factors, including retailers shedding holiday workers and construction sites idling for winter.
Even so, University of the Pacific economist Jeff Michael said, "We don't normally see this big a decline in February. It certainly got my attention. I thought it would stay above 10 (percent). ...
" Usually, we expect to see that kind of decline in April."
Michael cited the region's job sector gains but cautioned that one month's data are not necessarily a reason to throw a party.
Statewide, nonfarm payroll jobs increased by 41,200 last month, adding to a gain of 725,100 jobs since recovery began in February 2010. Nonfarm jobs in California totaled 14,570,400 in February this year.
The number of people unemployed in California in February was 1,792,000 - a drop of 26,000 from January and down 209,000 from February last year.
California saw monthly job gains in construction, information, financial activities, professional and business services, leisure/hospitality and government - 57,700 jobs in all.
However, manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; educational and health services; and other services posted monthly job declines, down 16,500 overall.
EDD cited the statewide job gains as further evidence of recovery.
Christopher Thornberg, a founding partner of Beacon Economics, agreed that the general trend was positive, with February's numbers representing a more-consistent signal now that the seasonal holiday months are behind us.
"It's always tricky with the seasonal period," he said. "All sorts of little things screw with the numbers. ... We actually disregarded the flatness we saw in January as irrelevant. ...
" But looking at the numbers now, lo and behold, things are looking pretty good. ... Government jobs started growing again, the housing market is on fire, construction activity is picking up, taxable sales are starting to rise, ag exports are booming."
Still, he saw some red flags, noting that California trade has been somewhat flat and "manufacturing has been wobbling somewhat in the state."
Michael Bernick, a former director of EDD, noted that over the past three years only the monthly statewide gain of 45,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in October 2012 was higher than last month.
Bernick said February's statewide total of 616,900 construction jobs was "well below its high of over 960,000 jobs in 2007, but above the 540,000 jobs during the Great Recession."
Still, Bernick said, "There remains a disconnect with the job world as seen by me and others in the job-training communities. Job placements remain very difficult and competitive."
Steve Levy with the Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy said the state has added 293,800 jobs over the past 12 months for a 2.1 percent gain, outpacing national job growth of 1.5 percent.
"After a long recession and housing crisis in which the state lagged the nation in job growth, California is once again one of the nation's job growth leaders," Levy said in an emailed February job update.
Call The Bee's Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.