Californias November jobless rate of 11.3% is well above the national rate… (Robert Galbraith, Reuters )
Reporting from Sacramento — California's unemployment rate dropped in November to 11.3%, the fourth straight month of decline and a sign that the state's labor market continues its slow recovery.
November's jobless rate fell sharply from the 11.7% rate posted in October, according to data released Friday by the Employment Development Department, even though California employers added a modest 6,600 workers to their payrolls last month.
Analysts said a sharp upward revision in the number of payroll jobs added in October helped. So did a rise in the number of people who reentered the labor force as owners of small businesses or as independent contractors; those workers are reflected in a separate, federal government survey of households.
California employers have added 211,400 workers to their staffs this year. Analysts said that's a respectable figure, but the state has a long way to go to make up the 1.3 million jobs that vanished during the economic downturn.
California's jobless rate is still well above the national rate of 8.6%, and more than 2 million Golden State workers remain unemployed.
"We still have tons of people not able to find work," said Kevin Klowden, director of the California Center at the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica think tank. Unemployment will likely continue to come down next year, but "the issue is how quickly it will happen."
Others found more reason for cheer after analyzing data from the state's household survey.
It showed that California's labor force increased by 116,000 workers in November compared with October. That's a sign that unemployed workers who might have given up looking for jobs returned to the job hunt or found jobs.
"Companies are still hesitant to add to their payroll employment by hiring people full time or part time," said Esmael Adibi, an economist at Chapman University in Orange. But more people are launching small businesses and earning a living as self-employed contractors and consultants, he explained.
"Overall, it's not a bad report, not when you're looking at the civilian employment," Adibi said.
The unemployment rate has dropped sharply throughout the region over the last year. Los Angeles County's rate of 11.9% last month dropped from 13% in November 2010; Riverside-San Bernardino counties' rate fell to 12.5% from 14.5%; Orange County's rate declined to 8.1% from 9.4%; and Ventura County's rate fell to 9.5% from 10.9%.
Job growth in Los Angeles County has been slow, however, with only 10,400 new jobs created since November 2010. Jobs in education and health services grew the most with 9,800 jobs added in the year, while information jobs rose by 6,600. Motion picture and sound recording accounted for 2,700 of those information slots.
California's recovery continues to be "a tale of two economies — by geography and by industry," said Stephen Levy, director and chief economist for the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy.
The most significant job growth is on the urban coast and in technology, trade and tourism, he said, led by the San Jose and San Diego metropolitan areas and the city of San Francisco.
"These areas are seeing a flurry of start-ups, IPOs coming to market, expanding exports and a rising level of optimism about the future," Levy said.
Additionally, faint signs of job expansions are emerging in such hard-hit areas as Sacramento, the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Inland Empire and some Central Valley counties, Levy said.
Levy's guarded optimism is shared by Donald Whatley of Torrance, a furniture manufacturing production manager laid off in the spring. Whatley, 54, said he feels that the job climate is getting better, even though he's yet to be rehired.
"Just getting in the door is my problem," he said. "But I've seen the number of calls [from potential employers] turn around lately and, hopefully, something will turn up."
But the recent, more upbeat economic indicators could decline early next year if a divided Congress doesn't renew federal unemployment insurance benefits, the Obama administration and advocates for the unemployed have warned.
The Department of Labor predicts that 230,000 out-of-work Californians would lose their benefits of a maximum of $450 a week by the end of January and 600,000 by the close of March if Congress takes no action. Unemployment insurance payments are a major stimulus for California's recovering economy, experts say.
Bonnie Ornitz, an out-of-work computer systems administrator from Granada Hills, worried that she could be forced to sell her house and move to another state with a lower cost of living if her unemployment benefits are cut off.
"I'll be living entirely out of savings," Ornitz said, and "my medical [insurance] payments will be going sky high."