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California employers keep adding jobs

California employers added jobs for the fourth straight month in April as the state’s sluggish labor market continued to show signs of life.

Payrolls increased by 14,200 in April, bringing the total number of jobs added this year to 56,400, according to the state Employment Development Department. Despite the gains, however, California companies still employ 1.3 million fewer people than they did when employment peaked in July of 2007.

“It’s certainly nothing to write home about, but it is fair to say we are growing again,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.

California’s unemployment rate remained unchanged from March, at 12.6%, although that’s because more workers — about 69,000 — rejoined the labor force to look for work.

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In another encouraging sign, a separate federal survey of households indicated that the number of people working in California increased by 76,000 in April. That survey includes people who are self-employed.

Companies looking to ramp up production coming out of a slowdown often hire temporary help or outside contractors before adding full-time, permanent staff members.

Justin Molavi recently scored a full-time job as an analyst at Santa Monica research firm IBISWorld after eight months of part-time work at a venture capital firm.

“Being in a part-time position is frustrating,” the 25-year-old said. “But there were not a lot of full-time positions available.”

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California’s government sector added the most jobs in April, 14,000, driven largely by temporary hiring for the 2010 census. The professional and business services sector added 3,100 jobs, while the leisure and hospitality industry added 9,300.

The job gains follow other recent positive indicators for California’s economy. Venture capital funding for start-ups jumped 12% in the first quarter of the year. And cargo passing through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach increased in April for the fifth straight month.

Still, California is lagging behind much of the country in recovery, according to Esmael Adibi, an economist at Chapman University. He said the state’s job increases were subpar compared with hiring in the overall economy in April, when U.S. employers added a greater-than-expected 290,000 jobs.

California’s construction, information and financial activities, manufacturing, and trade, transportation and utilities sectors all shed positions last month. The state has lost 355,300 jobs over the year. More than 2 million Californians are still unemployed.

“Plain and simple, there’s not a lot of work,” said Gregory Don Robinett, 62, a Manhattan Beach design engineer who has been drawing unemployment checks since February. He has offered to work for some employers without pay — to no avail — just to get his foot in the door and to have something to do during the day.

California has the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation, behind Michigan (14%) and Nevada (13.7%), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some employers said they’re being inundated with job seekers. Irvine Internet advertising company WebVisible received 600 applications for 15 positions after it received $20 million in venture funding, said Veena Dua-Chillar, vice president of human resources.

“I am noticing that there are a lot of more qualified people for the job,” she said.

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Los Angeles eked out a job gain in April, adding 400 jobs, mostly in leisure and hospitality and the government sectors. The county’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 12.3%. Orange County added 4,700 jobs, also in those industries. Its unemployment rate fell to 9.5% from a revised 10.1% in March.

The long-suffering Inland Empire saw its unemployment rate fall to 14.2% from a revised 15% in March. The region added 900 jobs in April, although it lost many jobs in the crucial trade, transportation and utilities sector.

The unemployment rate in San Diego County fell to 10.4% in April from a revised 11% in March as the county added 1,600 jobs. Ventura County added 300 jobs as its unemployment rate fell to 10.5% from a revised 11.3% in March.

Some of those back in the workforce have advice for the unemployed: Persistence pays.

Marc Russell, 58, applied for 847 jobs before scoring one as a receptionist with Escrow of the West in Beverly Hills. He had been out of work for 22 months.

He remembers feeling dazed when he found out that his 848th job application had finally been successful.

“I knew that if I kept looking constantly, someone eventually would offer me a job,” he said. “I just didn’t think it would take this long.”

alana.semuels@latimes.com


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