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State Posts Moderate Gain of 18,300 Jobs

Times Staff Writer

California employers added a net 18,300 jobs in January, the state reported Friday, a moderate gain that suggested the state started the new year with steady but unspectacular growth.

The gain was on par with what the state needs to create each month to keep up with growth in its labor force. It was also consistent with national reports indicating that economic growth picked up in January after a lackluster fourth quarter.

However, California job growth in December was revised sharply lower to 4,900 positions from the initial estimate of 24,300, the state Employment Development Department said.

And the construction industry, the largest driver of statewide employment growth last year, lost jobs in January. That was the sector’s first monthly decline since May and another indication that a six-year housing boom is slowing.

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“Job growth is modest at best,” said Stephen Levy, director and senior economist at the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto.

Levy noted that California fell short of getting its share of national job growth for January and December.

“That’s a troubling sign,” he said.

On the brighter side, the state’s unemployment rate fell to 4.9% from 5.1% in December. The national unemployment rate stood at 4.7% in January.

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In addition, revisions in job data for all of last year, also released Friday, indicated that the Golden State was a much stronger job creator than initially believed.

California added a net 287,800 jobs in 2005, 54,100 more than initially estimated, in the wake of updates in statistical benchmarks mandated annually by the U.S. Labor Department, Employment Development Department spokesman Kevin Callori said.

With those revisions, California posted a 2% increase in jobs for 2005, better than the nation’s 1.6% gain, said Howard Roth, chief economist for the state Department of Finance.

“That’s pretty good,” he said, noting that strength in such key sectors as international trade and tourism gave California an edge over many other states.

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The latest data come amid signs that business confidence is growing even while worker attitudes are wavering.

A survey released Thursday by the Business Roundtable indicated that chief executives of large U.S. companies plan to boost hiring in coming months. More than a third of small businesses in California expect to expand their staffs this year over last year, according to a survey released Friday by Union Bank of California.

But an index released Friday by Spherion Corp., a staffing company, indicated a decline in January in the percentage of California workers expressing confidence in job availability and their personal employment situation.

The drop “serves to reinforce the level of uncertainty that still exists in the state’s workforce,” said Ralph Henderson, a Spherion senior vice president.

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One source of worker unease might be the slowing housing market.

Construction was one of four out of 11 industry categories tracked by the state that reported job declines in January, losing a net 1,300 jobs. The industry added 75,700 jobs over the last 12 months. Levy and other analysts are concerned that construction jobs won’t grow at all this year amid a slowdown in new-home building.

The information sector, which includes Hollywood movie production workers, recorded the largest job decline in January, losing a net 6,600 jobs. Manufacturing employment fell by 4,200.

Six categories posted job increases, led by trade, transportation and utilities with a net gain of 9,900 jobs, and professional and business services with 9,800. Leisure and hospitality added 4,600 and education and health services grew by 4,300.

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The number of unemployed in California totaled 875,000 in January, down 36,000 from December, according to a separate survey of households that is also used to calculate the jobless rate.

Los Angeles County’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell to 5.2% in January, down from a revised 5.5% in December and 5.9% a year earlier. However, nonfarm employment in the county fell by 60,100 jobs from December, part of “normal seasonal employment reductions,” the Employment Development Department said.

Orange County continued to post the Southland’s lowest jobless rate, at 3.6%, up from 3.2% in December but down from 4.1% a year earlier. Nonfarm employment in the county fell by 23,800 jobs, also attributed to seasonal factors.

Among jobless rates in other Southland counties, San Diego came in at 4.1%, Riverside had 4.6% and San Bernardino and Ventura posted 4.7%. Statistics for all counties -- except Los Angeles -- were not seasonally adjusted.

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