California added more than 27,000 jobs in July, marking another month of continued employment growth outpacing the nation.
Employment Development Department data released Friday showed that the state's unemployment rate remained flat at 7.4%, but economists cautioned that month-to-month gyrations in jobless numbers are often unreliable.
Last month's rate is a significant improvement from last July, when it registered at 9%. The state's job growth has outpaced the nation's over the last year.
"Although the unemployment rate didn't go down, the trends very much suggest that it will," said Jerry Nickelsburg, a senior economist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast who focuses on the California economy. "We've got fairly widespread growth."
State sectors that aren't growing, such as finance and federal government employment, are held back by national economic factors, he said.
The fast-growing industries are education and healthcare, along with professional and business services. Although construction employment is still far lower than at the peak of the housing boom in 2006 and 2007, jobs in the sector also grew at one of the fastest rates in the state last year.
Economists also saw promise in job growth outside of areas that have traditionally thrived, such as the Bay Area. Job growth in the Inland Empire has been among the fastest in the region, though unemployment remains high. Riverside and San Bernardino counties saw annual job growth of 3% since last July, which is faster than the San Jose area and only slightly behind San Francisco.
"Broad sections of the state are seeing improvement," said Christopher Thornberg, an expert on the California economy who is co-founder of Beacon Economics. "The job growth we're seeing in the state today is from Bakersfield to Fresno to the Inland Empire."
Last month marked the first time California had regained the number of jobs lost during the downturn, driven in part by the boom in the Bay Area.
But counties in Southern California have yet to match the peak employment levels from 2007.
Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said he did not expect counties such as Los Angeles and Orange County to return to those peak employment levels until next year.
"Southern California's counties bore the brunt of the recession," Kleinhenz said. "They took a harder hit and were slower to come back."
Much of the lag can be attributed to the greater reliance on real estate during the housing bubble.
"The whole legacy of the housing downturn is still having a very long tail in Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire," said Lynn Reaser, chief economist of the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.
The unemployment rate in Los Angeles County this month, at 8.1%, remained higher than the state average. But it marks an improvement over last year's rate of 10%.
Orange County had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, at 5.7%, along with Bay Area counties such as San Mateo and San Francisco. Riverside County had one of the highest unemployment rates in Southern California, at 9.5%.
Despite the slower growth in Southern California, experts generally agreed that signs are pointing in the right direction for long-term growth.
"It seems that California has some good, solid growth prospects," Reaser said. "It's also in defiance of predictions and fears that companies are walking out of the state and things are crumbling."
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