Target HR representative Hannah Chong, right, gathers applications from… (Los Angeles Times, Brian…)
California employers added 25,200 jobs to their payrolls in July, the 12th straight month of gains and a solid showing amid a weak labor market nationwide.
The pace of the state's job growth, on an annual basis, had long lagged behind that of the nation. But with particularly strong gains the last three months, employers have pushed year-over-year growth to 2.6% — nearly twice the U.S. rate.
Still, the July increase wasn't enough to reduce the jobless rate, which remained unchanged at 10.7%, according to data Friday from the state Employment Development Department.
"California is gaining momentum," said Esmael Adibi, director of the A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research at Chapman University. "This report was a very good report ... indicative of a continuation of the growth."
In the last three months, a net total of 116,100 jobs have been created, after the state employment agency revised June's job gains to 45,000 from its initially reported increase of 38,300.
July's gains were broad-based, with six sectors improving. The professional and business services area, which includes high-paying jobs in accounting and legal fields, reported the biggest gains, totaling 15,200 jobs.
The economic recovery, though, has been uneven, with much of the growth concentrated in the north and the coastal areas.
Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, for instance, have been buoyed by growth in the technology sector, while the Inland Empire and the Central Valley still languish after the housing bust hit those regions especially hard.
And despite the job growth, nearly 2 million Californians remained unemployed last month. In addition, the labor force shrank by 52,500 in July as some job seekers quit looking for work.
"I know people are disappointed with the unemployment rate still being so high, but to bring that down we need to see much more job creation to make a significant dent," Adibi said.
Since the recovery began in mid-2009, California employers have added a total of 507,200 non-farm jobs.
"California continues to surprise us in our positive direction," said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo. "This is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise lackluster economic growth in the United States."
Net losses hit four sectors, including construction and manufacturing. The worst hit was the trade, transportation and utilities sector, which shed 8,000 positions.
For only the second time this year, state and local governments posted a modest gain as they wrestled with ravaged budgets and slashed payrolls. Last month, they reported a net gain of 1,200 jobs.
Other sectors showing gains included education and health services with 10,300 jobs and leisure and hospitality, which added 6,400 jobs as summer tourism in California grew this year.
"People vacation more in the U.S. rather than overseas," Sohn said. "And one of the places they come to is clearly California. We've been seeing hotel occupancy rates move up."
Manufacturing, once leading an economic recovery nationwide, lost 3,100 positions in California last month. Those job losses signal that the slowing U.S. and global economies are beginning to have an effect on the state, economists said.
"For the next few months, we expect to see U.S. consumers be a bit more cautious, and that affects California goods," said Jerry Nicklesburg, a UCLA economist.
He said that Europe's debt crisis and an economic slowdown in China are expected to be "a drag on California's economy."
Even as the labor market gradually improved, landing a job continued to be elusive for many.
Manny Rios, 38, has been looking for work for the last two months. The former catering-truck driver, who was injured while working a few months ago, said his grim job prospects have forced him to consider retraining for a new career.
"It's been tough," he said as he left a state job center Thursday in Koreatown.
Rios plans to study for a career as a physical therapy assistant to make himself a more attractive job candidate.
Hundreds of others flocked to a job fair held by Target, which is looking to fill 250 positions for a planned store in downtown Los Angeles.
Even so, economists said the state economy seems to be picking up steam, and they expect more robust job creation through the end of the year.
"I think the economy is shifting upward, but at a very slow pace," said Tal Hassid, president of ETO Doors Corp., a commercial and residential door manufacturer based in downtown Los Angeles.
Hassid said improvements in the economy have allowed him to hire 15 people since the beginning of the year, and he expects to hire four more in the next couple of weeks.
Across the United States, 44 states saw unemployment rates rise. California's unemployment rate is the third-highest, behind Nevada at 12% and Rhode Island at 10.8%.
Los Angeles County shed 44,200 nonfarm jobs in July, and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 11.2%.
Most Southern California counties reported job losses in local education as most schools were closed for summer recess.
Orange County shed 12,700 jobs, and its unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.9%. San Diego County's unemployment rate slipped to 9.2% from 9.3% in June. The county lost 4,400 nonfarm jobs in July. The unemployment rate can fall even if a region loses jobs as frustrated job seekers drop out of the labor force.
Times staff writer William D'Urso contributed to this report.