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California unemployment report fosters doubts on recovery

California added jobs for a fifth straight month in May, but the positions weren’t the type economists like to see.

Some were temporary census jobs that will disappear during the summer. Others were jobs snagged by people who wanted full-time work but could find only part-time positions.

Though the state added 28,300 jobs to payrolls in May, economists say the types of jobs added indicate that the state’s economy still faces big problems ahead.

The state experienced losses in construction, trade and the traditionally strong education and health services sector. Those losses were offset by 30,000 federal government positions that were mostly census jobs.

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“It’s all census, even more so than last month,” said Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. “The private sector is completely flat.”

The state’s unemployment rate fell slightly to 12.4% from 12.5%. The labor force grew by 27,000, as some formerly discouraged workers started to once again look for work.

Census jobs aren’t the only positions that are providing a Band-Aid. Economists say many of those who do have jobs are part-time, or underemployed, workers, who can’t find full-time work because of the economy.

They are not counted in the unemployment rate. But one measure, the U-6 number, which includes the unemployed and those who are employed part-time for economic reasons, reached 21.9% in May, the highest it’s been in decades.

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The number of people employed part-time involuntarily jumped 24% from a year earlier. That trend is unlikely to change until employers are convinced that the recovery is gaining strength, economists say.

“Involuntary part-time employment is a reflection of how slow the California economy is, and is one more reason that job recovery in the state is likely to continue at a slow pace,” said Michael Bernick, a former director of the state Employment Development Department and now a lawyer with the firm Sedgwick in San Francisco.

During heady times in the economy, staffing firm Manpower received few requests for part-time positions, said Los Angeles regional director William Marzullo. Now, employers are hiring for part-time rather than full-time positions, particularly in manufacturing.

“It’s generally due to a slowdown in business,” he said.

Liza Robinson is hiring a part-time bookkeeper for her West Los Angeles construction firm. She says she hopes to eventually make the bookkeeper full time if her firm, CMRS Construction, continues to grow.

“I’d love to have a bookkeeper five times a week, but I can’t afford it right now,” she said.

Robinson received 60 applications in about six hours Thursday, and she said many of the applicants were overqualified.

“I feel bad — they deserve to be earning a lot more, but I just don’t have the budget,” she said.

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Part-time workers and temporary census takers, with less expendable income than people with full-time jobs, don’t spend money on consumer goods or services that might help bring the state out of its economic slump.

“If you cut the amount of work you’re doing by 25%, that can be the difference between paying the rent and putting gas in your car,” said Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Washington. “The reduction in consumption means you’re taking money out of local economies where families would have spent it.”

Single mother Marie Li works 22 hours a week as a teacher of English as a second language. She said she barely has enough money to buy food after paying for rent and her course credits at Cal State L.A. Friends tell her she should stay home and collect unemployment benefits rather than work part-time. But she says she likes teaching and hopes she’ll soon be able to turn it into a full-time job. In the meantime, though, she’s struggling.

“We are the poorest people in the country,” she said.

La’Juanda Knight lost her job as a personal assistant a month ago, and now the 28-year-old North Hollywood resident is trying to find another job. But she says many of the jobs advertised are for part-time work that pays as little as $8 an hour.

“That’s never going to be enough to pay the bills,” she said.

The unemployment rate in Los Angeles County increased in May to 12.3%, from a revised 12.2% in April. The county added 6,500 jobs, mostly in government, leisure and hospitality, information, trade, transportation and utilities. The federal government was responsible for 9,300 jobs, helping to offset big losses in the traditionally strong education and health services fields. Construction posted a small gain of 500 jobs.

Employers in the Inland Empire added 3,800 jobs, about 2,800 of which were federal government positions. That region’s unemployment rate fell to 13.9% in May, down from a revised 14.2% in April. That area, comprising Riverside and San Bernardino counties, has lost 35,200 jobs since May 2009.

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In Orange County, the unemployment rate declined to 9.2% from a revised 9.5% in April as employers added 9,100 jobs. Government accounted for much of the increase, but trade, transportation and utilities, and leisure and hospitality also added positions. The county lost 400 jobs in the construction industry, adding to the 12,300 jobs lost in that sector this year.

Federal government accounted for about half the job gains in San Diego County, which added 8,400 jobs and saw its unemployment rate fall to 10% from a revised 10.4% in April. Ventura County added 1,400 government jobs out of a total of 1,700 jobs added overall. That county’s unemployment rate fell to 10.2% in May, down from a revised 10.5% in April.

Two counties in the state, Imperial and Sutter, are still experiencing unemployment rates of 20% or more.

About 913,000 Californians have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, more than double the number a year earlier. The Employment Development Department said Tuesday that hundreds of thousands of these people may experience an interruption in unemployment insurance benefits because Congress has not yet voted to extend benefits.

Because of uncertainty in jobless benefits and the temporary nature of the census jobs, many Californians don’t know whether or when they’ll have enough money in the coming weeks or days to pay the bills.

“Everything’s day to day,” said Steve Fiorindo, who worked for a census enumerator for roughly a month in May and is waiting to hear whether he’ll get hired for another stint.

The census job was the first that the single father, 39, has had since last year. Now that it’s ended, he’s back to looking for a job that will help him support his daughter and move out of the house where he lives with his parents.

“It’s tough; I’m just trying to make enough money to make my car payment, put my daughter through school,” he said. “I’ll do anything.”

alana.semuels@latimes.com


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