News Column

Hiring Report Offers Hope To California's Jobless

April 23, 2012

Dale Kasler


Maybe the economic recovery isn't cooling off, after all.

Although jobless rates increased last month, employers continued hiring at a decent pace throughout California in March, state officials said. Perhaps more importantly, officials now say a lot more Californians got jobs in February than previously believed.

The latest monthly numbers from the state Employment Development Department left economists in a reasonably good mood.

Unemployment rose a tenth of a point, to 11 percent, but that was partly because tens of thousands of Californians flooded back into the job market. That's often a sign that people are regaining faith in the economy.

Some 18,200 of them found work during the month.

"These are still not stupendous gains, but definitely we're stringing them together now," said principal economist Dennis Meyers of the state Department of Finance. "That's slow but steady improvement."

He said payrolls have now grown for eight straight months.

Sacramento continues to struggle compared to much of the rest of California. Even so, the four-county region added 4,800 new jobs in March. The unemployment rate rose to 11.6 percent, up two-tenths of a point, although this also may have been the result of an expanding workforce.

The jobless statistics were released the day after one of Sacramento's bedrock industries -- real estate -- got some good news.

Market researcher DataQuick reported that Sacramento County housing prices were slightly higher in March than a year earlier. That was the first year-over-year gain in 20 months.

There are still fewer people working in the Sacramento area today than a year ago -- one of the few places in California where that's true. Economist Jeff Michael said job losses have been inflated by a drop-off in the leisure and hospitality sector, which he blamed on a lackluster ski season in the Sierra Nevada.

"I think Sacramento is growing, although it is lagging the state," said Michael, director of the University of the Pacific's Business Forecasting Center.

One of the growth sectors last month was local public education, which added 1,600 jobs in the Sacramento area as schools began gearing up for summer programs. But officials said the region's school districts continue to pare back in the face of budget troubles.

"We have over 400 employees who are sitting on pink slips," said Gabe Ross, spokesman for the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Much of the Central Valley is in the same condition as Sacramento -- still humbled by the housing crash, and trailing the statewide average. Most of the gains in this two-tiered recovery have been confined to the coastal markets.

Last month was no exception. Payrolls have grown by nearly 3 percent in San Francisco in the past year, driving unemployment down to 7.7 percent. Job growth is running at almost 2 percent a year in Orange County, leaving unemployment at 8.1 percent.

The relatively strong statewide hiring numbers came as a relief to many experts. A month ago, economists feared the recovery was petering out. The state had suffered through its second straight month of minimal job growth, and it looked as though soaring gas prices and other issues were having a significant effect.

But Meyers said the latest figures show the continued strength of the economy. In particular, the EDD revised February's job gains from 4,000 to a whopping 38,600. That made February one of the single best months since the recovery officially began in mid-2009.

"It kind of lays to rest the doubts (from) last month," he said. "It was nice to put that aside."

The job growth in March was scattered across multiple sectors, including finance, trade and leisure and hospitality. Jobs were lost in construction, manufacturing and a few other sectors.

Source: (c)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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