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California employers add 18,200 jobs in March

State employers add jobs for the eighth straight month, but the unemployment rate rises slightly to 11% as more idled workers start job hunting again.

April 21, 2012|By Ricardo Lopez, Los Angeles Times
  • A job seeker looks over event materials as she waits to enter the Hirevent job fair at the Hotel Whitcomb in San Francisco.
A job seeker looks over event materials as she waits to enter the Hirevent… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

California's labor market continued its slow improvement in March as employers added jobs for the eighth straight month.

Payrolls grew by 18,200 jobs last month, according to figures released Friday by the California Employment Development Department. That's on top of a revised gain of 38,600 jobs in February.

The unemployment rate increased to 11% in March, up slightly from February's 10.9% rate. Improved employment prospects have encouraged more idled California workers to start job hunting again, driving the unemployment rate higher, said Dennis Meyers, principal economist for the state's Department of Finance.

"People are starting to feel it's probably a better time to look for work," Meyers said. "People think there's a good chance of getting jobs."

California has added 181,000 payroll jobs over the last year. Still, the Golden State's unemployment rate remains well above the U.S. average of 8.2%. And California is one of only three states, along with Nevada (12%) and Rhode Island (11.1%), with an unemployment rate stuck in double digits.

More than 2 million Californians are unemployed.

North Hollywood resident Michael Torres, 23, said he's been looking for full-time administrative work since he was laid off from a law firm in November.

He's scoured job boards online and dropped off resumes with potential employers, but so far has had no luck, even after a handful of interviews.

"I'm open to anything," Torres said. "But I'm definitely optimistic."

California's March employment gains were spread across a variety of industries. The leisure and hospitality sector added the most jobs at 37,800 positions. Much of that came from restaurants as consumers who have returned to work or are laboring more hours are rewarding themselves with meals out.

"People have more income," said Jerry Nickelsburg, a senior economist at the UCLA Anderson Forecast. "People are eating out in restaurants, so restaurants are seeing increased demand and they need more people."

Other job categories — including professional and business services; financial activities; and education and health services — saw increases in March.

However, the state's long-suffering construction sector lost jobs last month, as did manufacturing, information and other services.

Over the last year, California's public sector has shed the most jobs, 46,000, a reflection of the budget woes that have hit state and local governments.

In Los Angeles County, the March unemployment rate was 11.8%, unchanged from February's revised rate. Orange County's jobless rate ticked up to 8.1% in March from a revised 8% the previous month. In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the unemployment rate crept up to 12.7% from a revised 12.5% in February.

Still, all those counties added payroll jobs, led by Orange County with 13,100 positions.

"The overall numbers paint a picture of a perfectly reasonable pace of growth," said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, an economic research firm. "People want more than that, but unfortunately, what we're seeing is normal growth."

Still, recent indicators including sluggish home sales and slowing manufacturing activity are raising concerns among other economists that the U.S. recovery could stall.

Rafael Cardona Gonzalez, 44, a jobless former retail worker, hopes they're wrong. The Los Angeles resident has been unemployed for almost three months. He recently completed training to be a paralegal in immigration law in hope of boosting his prospects.

"The jobs are out there," he said."You just got to do the legwork and get them."

ricardo.lopez2@latimes.com

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