Reflecting the increased momentum in California's economic expansion, employers in the state added a hefty 41,300 jobs in March, trimming the unemployment rate to 6.5% from a revised 6.6% in February, officials reported Friday.
The report, by the state Employment Development Department, says California has now created more than 1 million jobs since the depth of the recession in April 1993.
March's job gains were spread throughout the state. Los Angeles County continued to see its unemployment rate dip, to 7.2% from the revised 7.3% of February, and neighboring counties enjoyed even bigger drops in joblessness.
Statewide, business services, a grouping that includes software firms and temporary-help agencies, led the hiring spurt in March. It was the second straight month in which nonfarm payrolls expanded by more than 40,000, substantially more than the 30,000 monthly average last year.
Construction, retail trade and the strong export industries--electronics manufacturing in Northern California and film production in the south--also posted nice gains in March.
Even aerospace manufacturing, thanks to the commercial aircraft buildup, continued on its slow climb since hitting bottom in April 1996, adding 300 jobs last month.
"We're seeing some good things happening to the state," said Ted Gibson, economist at the state Department of Finance in Sacramento.
For March, California's jobless rate remained noticeably higher than the 5.2% for the U.S. as a whole. However, analysts expect that gap, almost 3 percentage points a couple of years ago, to narrow quite a bit more this year.
Statewide, California is now adding jobs at a 3% annual rate, compared with 2.2% for the U.S. Although Los Angeles County still lags the state, its job growth rate is about the same as the nation's, and analysts point out that the Los Angeles labor market is more robust than those of other large U.S. cities.
"For Los Angeles County to do as well as the nation is quite substantial," said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto. That's especially so, he said, given that the Southland has seen no major turnaround in the housing market or in the aerospace industry.
Construction employment in Los Angeles County, for example, was unchanged in March from the same month a year ago. But for the state overall, construction payrolls were up 11% over the last year.
Still, Southern California continues to benefit from a growing entertainment industry, which includes film production and multimedia businesses. Motion pictures added 2,300 jobs last month in Los Angeles County, which now has 145,600 people working in that industry, an 11% increase from a year earlier.
In a separate report Friday, the California Film Commission said film starts jumped 30% last year in California to 570. And although Los Angeles County is still where most of the film projects are, neighboring counties are claiming an increasing share.
Sheri Davis, director of the Inland Empire Film Commission, said that three years ago, film companies "flew over" her area on the way to other locations. But, she said, "now the industry lands in our back lot."
Last month, the unemployment rate for the Riverside-San Bernardino area fell to 5.5%, from 5.7% in February, as that region saw job growth in most industries, particularly services and retail trade.
Orange County's jobless rate, which has been one of the lowest in the state, dropped to 3.2% in March from 3.5%, led by gains in services and high-tech manufacturing.
Throughout the state, the one industry that continues to lag is the finance sector, which includes principally banks and savings and loans. Analysts say that industry isn't likely to see a turnaround any time soon.
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New jobs created in California each month, in thousands:
* Source: California Employment Development Department