California's unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in 4 1/2 years as the state experienced one of the sharpest drops in joblessness nationwide, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday.

Unemployment fell to 9 percent in April, the lowest point since November 2008, nearly a year after the recession began. The decrease of 0.4 percentage points from the previous month follows two smaller dips and several months when the rate hovered at 9.8 percent.

Kern County's jobless rate also dropped sharply in April, to 12.1 percent from a revised 13.6 percent the month before and 14.2 percent a year prior.

The biggest local hiring gains, by share, were in city government (up 4.3 percent from March, or 100 jobs) and business management (up 4 percent or 100 jobs), the department reported. Farm employment rose by 3.2 percent in April, or 1,200 positions.

The number of jobs created in April was evenly split -- 1,200 to 1,200 -- between non-farm and farm jobs, which tend to be seasonal.

The category that saw the biggest proportional losses in Kern was department store employment (down 2.3 percent, or 100 jobs), followed by food manufacturing (1.7 percent or 100 jobs), the department reported.

The biggest proportional improvement came in professional and business services. It gained 800 positions, led by hiring in management, administrative support and waste services (3.1 percent, or 400 jobs) and professional and technical services (2.7 percent, or 300 jobs).

In all, the county added 2,400 jobs, an employment increase of 2.5 percent, department data show. The number of people in Kern's workforce without a job in April was estimated at 46,700.

California has added more than 273,000 jobs since April 2012, including a net gain of 10,400 nonfarm jobs in April. Monthly job gains were down from March when the state added 25,500 jobs.

The construction industry has posted some of the largest gains, adding 7,400 jobs last month and 44,800 positions during the past year.

Manufacturing, trade, hospitality, financial activities, and educational and health services also gained jobs.

Among the sectors reporting losses were professional and business services, information and government. Professional services generally have added jobs over the past year, adding 71,500 positions.

Nearly 1.7 million Californians remain unemployed, down 300,000 from April 2012.

Imperial County, along the state's southern border, had the state's highest unemployment rate in April at 24 percent. Marin County in the San Francisco Bay Area was lowest at 4.6 percent.

The state's figure remains above the national unemployment rate of 7.5 percent. California had the fourth-highest jobless in April, behind Nevada, Illinois and Mississippi.

Laura Olson of the Associated Press and John Cox of The Californian contributed to this report.