L.A. County’s unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent in December, the first time it was below 8 percent since mid-2008, state figures released Friday show. The state Employment Development Department reported the county’s unemployment rate finally budged from 8 percent, where it had been stuck for the previous three months. More local residents reported finding work last month as the county’s labor force grew slightly. A year ago, the rate was 9.2 percent. But despite finally dipping below the 8 percent barrier, the county unemployment rate still exceeded the statewide rate of 7 percent and was well above the national rate of 5.6 percent. Unemployment in the county’s two largest cities, Los Angeles and Long Beach, remained above 8 percent. Local employer payrolls grew by 7,300 jobs in December to reach 4.26 million, just 25,000 jobs shy of the all-time high reached in December 2007 at the start of the recession. Retail and health care led the way, each gaining 5,000 jobs. “For retail jobs, it was one of the busier holiday seasons,” said Janelle Bieler, regional vice president for Los Angeles and Hawaii for international staffing firm Adecco. “The biggest growth was in the back office, for online retailers who needed more support to handle customer calls.” The construction sector posted the biggest decline in December, losing 2,400 jobs, as rain early in the month put projects on hold. Surprisingly, professional and business services shed 1,800 jobs, perhaps driven by some end-of-year job cuts. Overall, employers in the county added 71,000 jobs for all of last year, for a growth rate of 1.7 percent. The biggest net job gainers were health care (up 22,000), professional and business services (up 19,000) and leisure/hospitality (up 11,000). Manufacturing continued its long slide, shedding another 6,700 jobs over the course of last year. Among large cities in the greater Valley region, Lancaster had the highest December unemployment rate at 10.7 percent, down from 11.3 the previous month. Nearby Palmdale dropped to 9.3 percent compared to 9.9 percent in November. In the east San Fernando Valley, Burbank reported 6 percent, a decrease from 6.4 percent in November, and Glendale came in at 6.5 percent, a downtick from 6.9 percent in November. Santa Clarita reported 4.5 percent, down from 4.8 percent in November. Los Angeles, the largest city in the region, reported unemployment of 8.3 percent, a decline from 8.8 percent in November.