The report by the state Employment Development Department showed much weaker job growth in July than June, continuing what has been a spotty economic recovery.
The jobless rate rose from 11.8 percent in June and hit 12 percent for the first time since March. Most industries added jobs, but big reductions in government payrolls shrank the net gain.
California still has the second-worst state unemployment rate in the nation, behind Nevada at 12.9 percent. The national rate in July dropped slightly to 9.1 percent.
A survey of California businesses in July counted 14.1 million payroll jobs, up by 189,400 jobs, or 1.4 percent, since July 2010.
That's roughly enough to keep up with recent population growth in the state but not to recover from the loss of about a million jobs in the past five years during the housing bust and recession.
California continues to show wide economic variation from region to region.
The jobless rates in the San Francisco and San Jose metro areas stayed unchanged in July at 8.8 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively.
Los Angeles lost 30,600 jobs in the month and saw the jobless rate increase from 12 percent to 12.4 percent.
Inland areas hardest hit by the housing bust also stayed weak. The Stockton area lost 14,400 payroll jobs and saw unemployment rise from 16.6 percent to 17.5 percent. Imperial County, east of San Diego along the Mexico border, lost 1,600 jobs and saw the jobless rate climb from 29.7 percent to 30.8 percent.
The economic sputtering echoes the status of the U.S. economy. Jobless rates rose in more than half the states for the second month in a row.
Hopeful signs on hiring early in 2011 grew weaker after April, and stocks have plunged over the past several weeks amid growing fear that the economy will stay weak for a prolonged period.