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California unemployment edges below 12%

The state's weak recovery continues as it gains 8,900 jobs in April, slower than the national pace.

May 21, 2011|By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times
  • A help wanted sign is seen posted in the window of a Middle Eastern restaurant in San Francisco. In April, the unemployment rate in California dipped below 12% for the first time since August 2009.
A help wanted sign is seen posted in the window of a Middle Eastern restaurant… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

California's unemployment rate fell below 12% for the first time since August 2009, but weak job gains showed that the economic recovery was still proceeding in fits and starts.

The state added 8,900 jobs in April and has gained nearly 100,000 jobs in the first four months of the year, according to numbers released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

But the growth came in a month in which the nation added 244,000 positions, powered by states such as Texas, which gained a healthy 32,900.

California should account for about one-tenth of the nation's job growth to keep pace with the national recovery. In April, that would have been about three times the number of jobs it actually created.

"I think we're on the way to recovery," said Michael Bernick, a former head of the state Employment Development Department. "But it won't be anything dramatic. We'll continue to see up and downs."

Although the unemployment rate fell to 11.9% from 12% in March, the weak housing market still weighs heavily on the state's economy. Construction lost 2,900 jobs in April, and financial activities, which includes jobs in mortgage services and lending, shed 1,600 jobs. April home sales were the lowest they have been in three years.

Government is also a weak point as the state battles its way through budget problems. The state shed 11,200 government jobs in April and has lost 59,200 since April of last year.

Meanwhile, strength in the technology sector — consider LinkedIn Corp.'s red-hot initial public offering Thursday — has not translated into enough jobs to lift the state out of its slump. The San Francisco metro area added only 700 jobs in April, and San Benito and Santa Clara counties, the home of Silicon Valley, added a total of 2,900.

Many growing companies are spending money on software and equipment to make themselves more efficient, rather than hiring additional employees.

"There continues to be a disconnect between employment and other economic indicators such as stock prices," Bernick said.

Overall, the state added jobs in manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; education and health services; leisure and hospitality; and mining and logging. It has added 144,400 jobs over the last year, many of them in early 2011.

Although some counties, such as Fresno and Inyo, have seen their unemployment rates rise over the year, most counties throughout the state are better off than they were a year ago. Of California's 58 counties, 22 still have unemployment rates topping 15%.

The unemployment rate in Los Angeles County fell to 12.1% in April from a revised 12.3% in March. The county added 13,100 jobs, led by the leisure and hospitality and the trade, transportation and utilities sectors. Over the year, Los Angeles County gained 23,500 jobs, helped by a strong performance in the information sector, which includes jobs in motion picture and sound recording. That subcategory added 20,600 jobs over the year.

Orange County's unemployment rate dropped to 8.6% in April from a revised 9.1% in March. It added 12,100 jobs, with strong growth in leisure and hospitality and professional and business services.

Riverside and San Bernardino counties lost a combined 3,900 jobs, although the unemployment rate fell to 13.4% from a revised 13.9% in March. Many of the state's inland areas are still losing jobs as the fallout from the housing bust continues.

San Diego County added 2,400 jobs as its unemployment rate slipped to 9.8% from 10.2% the month before. In Ventura County, the unemployment rate fell to 9.7% from 10.4% in March. That county added 400 jobs. Kern County added 1,700 jobs, helping push its unemployment rate down to 16% from a revised 17.5% the month before.

Many hires have been part time or temporary, leaving workers scrambling to find more permanent work. About 1.5 million people in the state say they're working part time for economic reasons, meaning they are seeking a full-time job.

Alba Ramirez, 32, of Koreatown has found a part-time job as an instructor at an adult care facility but says the hours aren't enough to make ends meet. Though her husband has a job, she says the couple are seeking a way to make a better income.

"I've been looking, but it's really hard right now," she said.

The high price of gasoline has slowed some segments of the economy, such as luxury retail, said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Cal State Channel Islands. He has revised downward his projections for economic recovery this year. The national GDP will not grow more than 3% in 2011, he said.

"It's going slower than we thought," he said. "And in California, it's even slower than it is nationally."

That's not what Kelley Burchnell, 21, of Fresno wants to hear.

Burchnell recently put an ad on Craigslist, saying that she and her boyfriend are living out of her Nissan Sentra and asking for work in anything, including gardening, cleaning or painting.

She used to land cleaning jobs and miscellaneous work easily but says it's harder now that she doesn't have a home address.

"Right now," she said, "I'm trying to get any job that I can."

alana.semuels@latimes.com

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