Jobless rate falls slightly in California

Published: Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6B

California and Sacramento continued their slow march to recovery last month.

California's unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a point in March to 9.4 percent, the lowest since December 2008. The state Employment Development Department said Friday that employers added 25,500 jobs during the month.

The Sacramento area's unemployment rate also fell, to 9.2 percent, a drop of three-tenths of a point, as the four-county region added 5,000 jobs.

While the latest numbers contained some red flags and sobering realities – the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said California is tied with Mississippi for the nation's third-highest unemployment rate, trailing only Nevada (9.7 percent) and Illinois (9.5 percent) – there was enough good news to elicit praise from experts.

"The state is in recovery, no doubt about it," said Christopher Thornberg, a founding partner of Beacon Economics in Los Angeles.

Nonfarm jobs in California totaled 14.6 million in March, a surge of 285,900 jobs compared with March 2012.

California added jobs in March in construction, information, financial activities, professional and business services, educational and health services, leisure/hospitality and government.

At the same time, however, such sectors as manufacturing, trade transportation and utilities shed workers.

University of the Pacific economist Jeff Michael said California is still lagging in some segments that are seeing growth elsewhere in the nation.

"Manufacturing is still declining slightly in California while it is growing nationally," he said. "When you look at (U.S.) manufacturing, computer manufacturing is weak and auto is up. We do computers in California; we don't do autos."

In recent months, California exports of computer components have dropped sharply due to the increasing global popularity of smartphones and tablets.

"That's a concern. That's an important market that is softening," Michael said.

Beacon's Thornberg said "the trade front is a function of the weak world economy. I think the good news for California trade is that it's not overly exposed to the (economic) trouble in Europe."

Thornberg said he also expects better news ahead for California manufacturing, which lost nearly 11,000 jobs in the past year.

"In the last couple months, there's been an increase in industrial production and durable goods orders and shipments. So, I'd expect some improvement there in the next few months."

Michael also noted that food manufacturing has been growing nationally but not in California. Sacramento, once a hotbed for food plants, has been part of that shrinkage, including the upcoming closure of the 66-year-old Campbell Soup plant in south Sacramento.

Overall, Michael said, California continues "slow, steady progress. We've been averaging monthly (job) gains of about 25,000 … Some of it is due to labor force contraction.

"When employment and the labor force are growing at the same time, that will make me more excited. You have to keep your eyes on both sides of the ratio."

Across the Sacramento area, government agencies created 2,100 jobs in March, while the leisure and hospitality industry added 1,000 jobs.

Regionally, EDD said the unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in Sacramento County, 9.5 percent in El Dorado County, 8 percent in Placer County and 11.1 percent in Yolo County.

Call The Bee's Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

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