California jobless rate below 7%; 1st time since March 2020

US & World

FILE – A hiring sign is shown at a booth for Jameson’s Irish Pub during a job fair on Sept. 22, 2021, in the West Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Hiring in California slowed significantly in November 2021 even as the state’s unemployment rate dipped below 7% for the first time since March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, according to data made public Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Hiring in California slowed significantly in November even as the state’s unemployment rate dipped below 7% for the first time since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to new data released Friday.

Even though California’s unemployment rate fell to 6.9% in November from 7.3% in October, the state still has the highest jobless rate of all U.S. states, according to the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The data showed that California employers filled 45,700 new jobs last month. That’s less than half of the jobs the state gained in October, but it was still enough to account for nearly 22% of all U.S. job growth in November.

California has added 977,200 new jobs since February, a feat Gov. Gavin Newsom called “an unprecedented achievement.”

But California lost 2.7 million jobs in March and April of 2020, back when Newsom issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order that forced many businesses to close.

Nineteen months later, California has regained nearly 70% of those jobs. That’s compared to 82% of jobs recovered nationwide since the start of the pandemic, according to Sung Won Sohn, a professor of finance and economics at Loyola Marymount University.

While California “continues to see a robust recovery, creating nearly 22 percent of the nation’s jobs in November and the largest unemployment rate decrease since February, there’s still more work to be done getting folks back to work and supporting those hardest-hit by the pandemic,” said Newsom, a Democrat.

White collar office jobs accounted for more than than 41% of California’s job gains in November, followed by gains in the sectors of education and health services and leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants and hotels. Construction jobs declined by 1,700, mostly because of employment losses for specialty trade contractors.

Counties surrounding San Francisco Bay, which have some of the state’s wealthiest residents, registered the lowest unemployment rates. Marin County had 2.9% unemployment, followed by Santa Clara County at 3.2% and San Francisco County at 3.3%.

Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous with nearly 10 million residents, had a 7.1% unemployment rate. The county has a disproportionate number of service industry jobs, including restaurants and hotels, that have had trouble finding workers.

Imperial County bordering Arizona and Mexico had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 15.5%, which is typical for that county’s rural economy that relies mostly on agriculture.

But other sparsely populated Central Valley counties with traditionally high unemployment rates posted numbers below the statewide average — including Shasta, Butte and Madera counties.

That shows the state’s job growth is not limited to the state’s population centers along the coast, said Michael Bernick, a former director of the Employment Development Department and a lawyer at the Duane Morris law firm.

“Other parts of the state are gaining and in fact doing better than they did throughout much of the pre-pandemic times,” he said.

The new unemployment data is based on surveys taken the week of Nov. 12. That survey showed California’s workforce — defined as the number of people who are either working or looking for work — increased by 17,900 people in November.

Still, the percentage of people in California’s workforce compared to the overall population is still below the U.S. level.

While California has averaged more than 97,000 new jobs per month since February, the state still had 1.1 million job openings at the end of October, according to the new data. That number that has persisted since August as employers have struggled to find workers.

“I don’t think workers are in any hurry to go back to work,” Sohn said. “The longer they wait the higher wage they are going to get. And there are lots of jobs to choose from.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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