Business & Real Estate

California unemployment rate falls, but is the state’s economy slowing?

The state gained 7,200 construction jobs in April, according to a May 19, 2017 report. Pictured: construction of the Sawyer hotel in Sacramento, September, 2016.
The state gained 7,200 construction jobs in April, according to a May 19, 2017 report. Pictured: construction of the Sawyer hotel in Sacramento, September, 2016. Scott Lorenzo

California’s unemployment rate fell to a near-record low of 4.8 percent last month, but experts cautioned that the Golden State’s economy might be slowing down.

April’s jobless rate was the lowest in 16 years and only a tenth of a percentage point higher than the all-time low from records dating to 1976, according to statistics released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

Officials said the all-time low statewide jobless rate was 4.7 percent in November-December 2000. In March the state’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, and in April 2016 it was 5.5 percent.

EDD said the state has gained nearly 2.5 million jobs since economic expansion began in February 2010.

EDD noted that non-farm payroll employment statewide totaled 16,681,200 in April, which actually represented a net loss of 16,300 jobs from March. The state said that was due to a revised gain of 22,800 jobs in March.

Michael Bernick, a labor lawyer in San Francisco and a former EDD director, characterized Friday’s data as a continuation of a remarkable run.

“Since early 2010, we’ve had 85 months of employment expansion. This is one of the longest employment expansions in the post-World War II period. … Only the employment expansions in the early 1990s (92 months), early 1980s (91 months), and much of the 1960s (113 months) were longer than our current expansion.”

However, Bernick zeroed in on the jobs lost between March and April as a possible sign of a slowing economy.

“Whether it is a monthly blip in continued growth or indicates an employment shift remains to be determined. We’ll have a better idea over the next two months.”

Sung Won Sohn, a professor of economics at California State University, Channel Islands, also noted the prolonged period of job growth but warned that it was not wise to “put so much attention on the jobless rate alone.”

The nationally known economist explained that job growth in and around Silicon Valley has been slowing of late, and that region has helped boost statewide numbers for more than a year.

“Job expansion is happening at a slower rate there,” he said. “I guess what I’m saying is it’s important to look at the overall picture rather than focus on a specific (jobless) number.”

Four of California’s 11 industry sectors added a total of 21,600 jobs in April. Leisure and hospitality posted the largest jobs increase with a gain of 7,400, followed by construction with an increase of 7,200 jobs. Other sectors adding jobs over the month were mining and logging, and educational and health services.

Three job sectors combined for a loss of 21,800 jobs year over year, led by a decline of 11,400 jobs in manufacturing.

Sacramento County’s preliminary, nonseasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in April, with 31,400 unemployed, according to EDD.

Other counties had astonishingly low jobless rates. For example, EDD said San Francisco County’s unemployment rate in April was only 2.7 percent, with 543,900 holding jobs in a reported workforce of 559,100.

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover