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California jobless rate dips to 5% as state adds 22,900 jobs in February

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David Schlosser prepares a meal at Shibumi restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. The hospitality sector was among the top job gainers in California in February. (Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)

California’s unemployment rate ticked down to 5% in February, reaching a 10-year low on eight consecutive months of job growth.

Businesses in California increased their payrolls by a net 22,900 employees, according to data released Friday by the state’s Employment Development Department.

By comparison, in February 2016, California gained 43,000 jobs. Over the last 12 months, the state has added 315,800 jobs, an increase of 1.9%. That compares to a 1.6% increase in the nation as a whole.

The 5% unemployment rate, down from a revised 5.2% in January, remained higher than the national rate of 4.7%.

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California hasn’t seen a jobless rate below 5% since 2006, said Michael Bernick, who directed the EDD from 1999 to 2004 and is now an attorney at Sedgwick, a San Francisco law firm.

“We are at near-historic lows,” Bernick said.

He pointed to impressive gains in Orange and San Diego counties — which had 3.7% and 4.2% unemployment rates, respectively — as a sign that Southern California’s job market is tightening in lockstep with the Bay Area. Professional services accounted for much of the uptick in employment in those two counties, including administrative and support services, which includes temp agencies.

In San Francisco and San Mateo counties, the February unemployment rate dipped to 3% and 2.8%, respectively.

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Los Angeles County added a net 33,400 jobs in February, and its unemployment rate dipped to 4.8%, from a revised 4.9% in January.

The county’s strongest sector was education, which produced 12,400 new jobs. The hospitality sector, which had an uncharacteristically bad month in January, rebounded in February, adding the second-highest number of jobs in the county.

Economists have warned that California will add jobs at a slower rate this year as the job market creeps toward so-called full employment — a scenario where almost everyone looking for work has found it.

The longevity of the current growth spurt — which has lasted for 84 months, according to the EDD — is not without precedent. An expansion in the 1960s lasted 113 months, and in the 1980s and ‘90s two separate periods of consistent job gains lasted more than 90 months each, Bernick said.

“We may still have some way to run,” he said.

The best performing California industries in February were trade, transportation and utilities, and hospitality, which piled on a combined 16,700 jobs.

The manufacturing and finance sectors lagged, slashing payrolls by 6,200.

The education sector has seen jobs grow the fastest of any industry in the state over the last 12 months. Payrolls in education increased by 5.7% since February 2016. Employment also expanded quickly in transportation, warehousing and utilities, healthcare and the information sector, which includes tech companies in Silicon Valley and the movie industry in Los Angeles. Those three industries saw jobs increase by more than 3% since February 2016.

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Meanwhile, the state’s labor force — which includes people who have jobs and the unemployed — has shrunk in each of the last three months. In February, 8,200 people stopped looking for work.

Natalie.Kitroeff@latimes.com

Follow me @NatalieKitro on Twitter


UPDATES:

2:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional job growth data and comments from a labor expert.

12:10 p.m.: This article and chart were updated with a revised unemployment rate for January.

The original article was published at 9:20 a.m.

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