Reporting from Sacramento — California employers added more than 25,000 workers to their payrolls in October, the third straight month of job growth, easing fears that the state's economy might tip back into recession.
Payrolls increased by 25,700 in October, according to figures released Friday by the Employment Development Department. That's on top of 39,200 jobs added in September and 21,100 in August.
The October unemployment rate fell to 11.7%. That's a modest decline from September's 11.9% jobless rate and well above the national rate of 9%. Still, it's a marked improvement from California's post-recession peak of 12.5% a year ago.
The state posted broad growth across seven of 11 industry sectors, led by professional and business services, which added 17,300 positions last month. That was followed by education and health services with 7,400 new positions and financial activities with 4,000. Even the beleaguered construction trades added 2,100 jobs in October.
Lenny Truong, 23, recently snagged a warehouse job at an Ontario health food and vitamins company after just two weeks of job hunting.
"It's a really good company, union with benefits," the Claremont resident said. "I actually think that [the job market] is getting a little better."
Since October 2010, California has added 239,000 jobs. Regions including the Silicon Valley, San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties and even the hard-hit Inland Empire all added workers.
"When you look at all of the indicators that presage a recession, we don't find any that tell us we're going into a second recession," said Jerry Nickelsburg, an economist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast.
But all bets could be off if the current turmoil in the Eurozone throws the continent into recession, economists said.
"Europe is the biggest risk, though it's not on our radar screen yet," said Scott Anderson, a senior economist who tracks California for Wells Fargo Bank.
California seems headed for a gradual recovery, barring a European meltdown or an implosion in a fractured Congress that's unable to agree on ways to cut government spending, experts said.
But the Golden State is threatened by its own revenue shortfalls that could trigger severe cuts in spending on schools and other government services next year, Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi said.
Still, there's no longer cause to fret about the economic effects of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the shutdown of the Libyan oil industry, he said.
"We're moving definitely in the right direction," Adibi said.
The Silicon Valley posted the state's strongest jobs expansion over the last 12 months at 3.2%, followed by San Diego at 2%, San Francisco 1.8%, Orange County 1.5% and the Inland Empire 1.4%. Los Angeles County posted the weakest job growth at 0.5%.
In Los Angeles County, the unemployment rate fell to 12.2% in October from 12.4% in September. The county has added 19,000 jobs since October 2010, with the biggest gain, 8,100 jobs, coming in information, which includes motion picture production and distribution. Private education added 6,600 jobs over the same period, followed by tourism, 6,200; administrative services, 6,100; and healthcare, 5,100.
Los Angeles should see an uptick with the onset of the holiday shopping season, said Kimberly Ritter, an associate economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. She predicted that local retail sales could increase up to 3%.
"It's one very small step at a time," Ritter said.
Momentum finally is sweeping inland to Riverside and San Bernardino counties, regional economist John Husing said.
"In August, growth occurred in the Inland Empire for the first time since the recession started," he said. "We're the last area in the state to actually turn positive."
But California has a long way to go to make up for the estimated 1.3 million jobs that disappeared in the recession of 2007-09, the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
"For the moment, the state's economy is moving toward slowly recovering the jobs lost in the recession and ever so slowly reducing the number of unemployed residents, which still totals over 2 million," said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto.