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It Was a Poor Job: State's Payroll Report Revised From Loss to Gain

The wrong figures stem from an error in calculating movement of seasonal workers.

March 11, 2003|Jerry Hirsch | Times Staff Writer

That bad economy in California? It's all a mistake -- at least for January.

The state Employment Development Department said Monday that California didn't really lose 10,500 nonfarm jobs in January as previously reported. Instead, state payrolls actually grew that month by 28,500 jobs.

The unusual revision in the job numbers, officials said, was because of a technical error in the way the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated the movement of seasonal workers in the winter. After catching the glitch, state analysts also made fixes in other monthly jobs reports going back 10 years, although none of the corrections were as dramatic as January's.

The revised data show that the state's troubled manufacturing sector didn't start out the year quite as badly as the agency said 10 days ago. Factory payrolls fell by 8,200 in January, not the 28,100 that was reported earlier. And one industry category -- trade, transportation and utilities -- actually added 12,700 more jobs over the month.

The fact that there was a gain rather than a loss of jobs in one month doesn't significantly alter the general pattern of the state's economic recovery, which has been tepid and uneven since summer.

The changes paint only a slightly brighter picture of the labor market: With the new tally for January, state employment grew by 58,600 jobs, or 0.4%, from January 2002 -- a bit better than the gain of 41,200 that the state originally had calculated.

Anyway, economists said, the January growth was probably erased by a big decline in February. The nation lost 308,000 jobs last month, and California's February jobs report, to be released March 21, is likely to show that the state got hit by a proportionate share of that drop.

"It doesn't look good," said Tom Lieser, senior economist at the UCLA Anderson Forecast. "We are not out of the woods yet."

The amended numbers didn't surprise Lieser, who, like many others, noticed that the country as a whole saw an increase in jobs in January.

"The other economists I talked to about it all thought there should have been an increase" in California too, Lieser said.

Howard Roth, chief economist for the state Department of Finance, said much the same thing: "I called EDD a week ago and said this January number really looks funny."

By then, however, the employment agency was onto the error and working with the federal government to sort it out.

Most other states were unaffected because they don't release seasonally adjusted economic data. The ones that do generally wait weeks after California goes through its numbers and were able to correct the errors before issuing their figures.

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