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Unemployment tops 20% in eight California counties

The state's jobless rate of 12.5% in January was its worst on record and fifth-highest in the nation.

March 11, 2010|By Alana Semuels
  • Job seekers surround a recruiter for California Prison Health Care Services at a job fair last month in Ontario. Unemployment in the Inland Empire in January was 15%, its highest level since 1990, the earliest year for which comparable data are available.
Job seekers surround a recruiter for California Prison Health Care Services… (David McNew / Getty Images )

For many California areas, unemployment rates moved persistently higher in January, indicating that the national economic recovery hasn't yet translated into jobs for the Golden State.

New county-by-county figures released by the state Wednesday showed that in eight counties, more than 1 in 5 people were out of work. Moreover, revised numbers for last year show that fewer people were employed than was previously believed.

The state was one of five, along with Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, that reached their highest unemployment rates since the government began keeping track in 1976, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. California's was 12.5% in January, up from 12.3% in December.

"The unemployment rate will be persistently at this high level for at least a few more months," said Esmael Adibi, an economist at Chapman University in Orange.

The unemployment rate for the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area reached 15% in January, its highest since 1990, the earliest year for which the state has comparable data available. Unemployment in Orange County reached 10.1%, up from 9.1% in December.

The state's revised data for last year showing elevated unemployment indicate that a recovery could take longer than previously predicted.

"The impact on the labor market was much more severe than what we had estimated," Adibi said.

Most counties were still struggling under the burden of joblessness, especially the eight counties where rates were higher than 20%. Merced County, for instance, had an unemployment rate of 21.7% in January, and Imperial County's rate was 27.3%.

The national unemployment rate in January was 9.7%, and the country experienced a strong 5.75% annualized increase in gross domestic product in last year's final three months.

"The real mystery now is why we aren't getting job growth when the GDP has been positive," said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.

Budget problems in state and local government are expected to further drag down the state's recovery, Levy said. Even if they don't get pink slips, state employees are earning less money because of furloughs and salary reductions, which reduces consumer spending in the state.

The government sector, which includes public education, lost 4,500 jobs from December to January. Nancy Hack lost her job as a gardener with the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks a year ago, and said that finding work has been a challenge at her age, 54.

"I'm like a fish out of water," she said.

Los Angeles County, with an unemployment rate of 12.5%, was hard hit by declines in the trade, transportation and utilities sector, which shed 21,900 jobs, and professional and business services, which lost 16,300 jobs.

The same sectors were hit in the Inland Empire, losing 7,700 and 3,600 jobs, respectively. Orange County lost 5,700 jobs in trade, transportation and utilities and 3,000 in professional and business services.

San Diego County's unemployment rate reached 11% in January, up from a revised 10.3% in December. The unemployment rate in Ventura County was 11.6% in January, up from a revised 10.9% in December.

California's unemployment rate was the fifth-highest in the nation, behind Michigan, Nevada, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

alana.semuels @latimes.com

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