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California adds 12,000 jobs in September; unemployment rate slips

The jobs numbers are 'not very significant' but 'growing in the right direction,' says Jerry Nickelsburg, a California specialist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

October 22, 2011|By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times
  • A job seeker hands his resume to a recruiter at a Dell career fair in Santa Clara, Calif. State government data show year-over-year job growth to be strongest in the Silicon Valley, with a 3.1% jump.
A job seeker hands his resume to a recruiter at a Dell career fair in Santa… (Justin Sullivan, Getty…)

Reporting from Sacramento — California employers added nearly 12,000 jobs in September, the second straight month of employment growth. But the pace of hiring wasn't enough to make a significant dent in the state's unemployment rate.

The jobless rate last month fell to 11.9% from 12.1% in August, the California Employment Development Department said. That's still well above the national unemployment rate of 9.1%. The unemployment rate in Los Angeles County slid slightly to 12.4%, from 12.5% the previous month.

Statewide payroll employment grew by 11,800 jobs in September, according to the EDD, which also revised August employment figures sharply upward. State economists now say California gained 21,100 jobs in August, instead of losing 8,400 as previously reported.

Economists said the recent job growth is a sign that California is not slipping into a double-dip recession as many had feared, although the labor market remains weak.

The jobs numbers are "not very significant," said Jerry Nickelsburg, a California specialist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast. "It's good to see them growing in the right direction, but they are not going to make a dent in the aggregate."

So far this year, the Golden State generated just 140,000 net new jobs, a level that experts called too sluggish to compensate for the 1.3 million jobs lost in the recession. California needs to add 125,000 jobs each year just to keep pace with population growth.

Statewide, five industry sectors added jobs in September. The biggest increase came in professional and business services, with 13,300. Six categories lost positions, including manufacturing, information, financial and health services. The largest decrease was in government, with a loss of 7,000 jobs.

Year over year, several categories have strengthened. Employment in information, which includes film and television production, expanded 5% from September 2010. Construction grew 4.2%, professional and business services grew 3.8%, and leisure and hospitality grew 2.7%.

California employers have added jobs in eight of the last 12 months. "At least the layoffs have ended," said economist Esmael Adibi at Chapman University in Orange.

Any growth at all is an achievement, considering the economic head winds that are buffeting the national and state economies, Adibi said: European political leaders are dithering over a sovereign debt crisis in Greece, a partisan Congress is bickering over federal budget deficits, and the state government is facing another revenue shortfall that could result in drastic spending cuts.

Employers' uncertainty over international and national economic conditions will play the biggest role in damping California's job growth in the near term, said Stephen Levy, executive director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto. In the meantime, he said, the state should make the most of its enduring strengths: technology, tourism and trade. California exports increased in each of the last 22 months, he said.

The EDD's new data show year-over-year job growth to be strongest in the Silicon Valley, with a 3.1% jump, and San Diego County, with a 1.4% rise. Even hard-hit Los Angeles County experienced some growth over the last year, though it was anemic at less than 1%, Levy said.

Finding a job in Los Angeles County remains a challenge for blue-collar and even high-tech workers.

Mitchell Fahrenkopf, 28, of Long Beach lost his forklift driving job at an organic foods company in August and couldn't qualify for unemployment because he hadn't been living in California long enough. "Every day I'm on line, and people say no, no," he said. "It's very frustrating."

Avery Depraect, 21, of West Covina earned a certificate in animation from Mt. San Antonio College in June. But he's only been able to pick up a few freelance assignments from Craigslist and is eager to land an internship. He's also trying to find a retail job to help pay his bills between animation gigs. He hasn't had a sales job since working at a shoe store in fall 2010.

"I've been looking, but it always seems to fall through," Depraect said. "I get a couple of good interviews, then all of a sudden they say, 'We hired someone else.'"

With the holiday season approaching, many retailers are not showing a lot of optimism. Demand for temporary sales personnel is lagging, and import cargo traffic is down a bit from this time last year.

"The back-to-school shopping season was lackluster," said Sung Won Sohn, a professor at the Martin V. Smith School of Business and Economics at Cal State Channel Islands. "I don't think that anyone is looking for a banner holiday season this year."

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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