California employers added just 5,500 jobs in November, according to federal data — a significant slowdown from more robust monthly gains earlier in the year.
But the state unemployment rate continued its five-year-long decline, dropping to 5.7% in November, the lowest in eight years. The U.S. unemployment rate is 5%.
November's tepid job increases were the lowest one-month jump in more than four years, and far less than the 40,600 job gains the state posted in October.
But economists cautioned against reading too much into monthly swings in the employment data, which often are subject to revisions. September's numbers, for example, were revised upward from 8,200 positions to 21,100 jobs.
"We're reading the economy on the fly," said Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "That's just the nature of these economic statistics."
Despite the lackluster November, California's payroll employment grew 2.6% over last year, faster than all but six other states and better than the national rate of 1.9%.
Construction continued to be the leading growth sector, as the industry continues to rebound from the housing crash. The high-paying professional and technical services industry — including lawyers, accountants, architects and engineers — also recorded some of the fastest job growth in the state.
The only industries to post losses were mining and logging, along with manufacturing and financial services.
The state unemployment rate is down significantly from a year ago, when it stood at 7.2%. The jobless rate is often criticized as an incomplete economic indicator because it doesn't count discouraged job seekers who have dropped out of the labor force.
Some of those who stopped seeking employment may be returning to the labor force, which has expanded over the last year even as unemployment fell. That suggests newly returned job seekers may be finding success.
Economists say job growth tends to taper off as an economic expansion progresses. The U.S. is technically in the seventh year of expansion.
Although California's economic growth has outperformed the nation, there are still reasons for many people to believe their fortunes have not improved.
The gap between high and low earners is more pronounced in California because wages for middle-income earners have fallen.
Since 2006, median wages have declined 6.2% in California, compared with 1.9% for the U.S. overall, according to the California Budget & Policy Center.
And while the share of part-time workers has declined since the depths of the Great Recession, that segment of the workforce is still larger than in the mid-2000s. About 5.9% of workers in California are considered part-time for economic reasons — meaning that they are unable to find full-time work.
That's down from 9.6% of the workforce in 2010, but still higher than when the economy last peaked in 2006.
"We don't want to miss the point that we are in one of the better times, employment-wise, in the last 40 years in California," said Michael Bernick, a former director of the California Employment Development Department. "But at the same time, these numbers don't represent a lot of the instability: the part-time, contingent nature of the evolving labor market."
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