California jobless rate holds steady as more people seek work

California is adding more high-paying jobs in affluent coastal areas, but the government and construction sectors remain big drags on the economy as communities inland continue to struggle.

Employers added 4,000 payroll jobs in February, signaling slow but steady improvement in the labor market, according to figures released Friday by the California Employment Development Department.

Despite the gains, however, the state’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 10.9% as more workers dusted off their resumes to look for employment. That’s well above the U.S. rate of 8.3%.

“People are more encouraged to find jobs,” said Stephen Levy, an economist with the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy. “As people come into the workforce it’s going to take a while to get the unemployment rate down.”

Statewide, the biggest job gains last month were found in industries that tend to pay better-than-average wages — another positive sign for the California economy. The information sector, which includes software and motion pictures, added 9,300 positions, followed by manufacturing (6,200), educational and health services (6,100) and professional and business services (2,800).

The Golden State’s improving economy was good enough for 42-year-old Serena Ehrlich to land a new gig as director of marketing for Mogreet, a Venice start-up that creates advertising campaigns on mobile phones and whose client list includes the television show"Glee."Ehrlich had been laid off from her last job in December.

“I am so happy,” Ehrlich said. “I will honestly tell you, I am thrilled that I got a job, and I am thrilled that I got a job that I like.”

The Culver City resident said she had higher-paying offers but took this one because she believed that mobile marketing and social media have lots of potential.

“It is an industry that is poised for growth, and that was part of the decision for taking this job,” Ehrlich said.

Norma Talavera of Santa Ana also recently found a permanent job at Anaheim manufacturer Craftech Corp. after serving as a temporary worker there through the agency Snelling Staffing Services. The 22-year-old said she was enthusiastic about the job but said she was still worried about the economy.

“There is always that ‘what if?’ in the back of my head,” Talavera said. “What if it just drops like it did before? It’s just scary, but that’s what it’s like right now. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

The number of temporary workers hired by employers in California has been increasing over the last three months, said Jerry Nickelsburg, a senior economist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast. Temporary workers are seen by many analysts as a bellwether for the labor market because they are typically the first fired during a downturn and among the first hired during recoveries.

“This rise in temps is at least in part showing the leading edge of employers beginning to bring employees on,” Nickelsburg said. “If the economy continues to see growth, they will continue to convert those into permanent jobs.”

Six industry sectors cut jobs last month, underscoring just how far California has yet to go. Government was the big loser, shedding 10,300 positions in February. Also contracting were trade, transportation and utilities; other services; construction; financial activities; and mining and logging.

“It’s a recovery, but it’s not as fast as we’d like it,” said Gov. Jerry Brown, speaking at a Santa Barbara business conference. “But it’s coming along. And it’s gradual.”

“Look, the fact is that the Wall Street meltdown was a catastrophe that almost brought down the world financial system,” Brown said. “The Federal Reserve had to inject trillions and trillions of dollars to keep the banking system afloat. That means we’re still recovering and picking up the casualties.”

The recovery has not come fast enough for Rita Hollis, 53, of Lakewood, who was laid off last month from a temporary job in customer service at a health insurance company. Working on her resume at a Long Beach career center recently, she said competition for jobs is stiff and that she’s getting few replies to her applications.

“If I could get my foot in the door, I could get the job — it’s frustrating,” Hollis said.

With the flood of new applicants, the job market remains extremely competitive, labor experts and job hunting professionals said.

“For every job that becomes available there will be five or 10 candidates that actually meet all of the technical requirements,” said Robin Toft, chief executive of the executive search firm Sanford Rose Associates in San Diego. In Southern California, “it is even worse than other parts of the country, because so many people live here by choice, so it is more competitive.”

The February unemployment rate in Los Angeles County was unchanged from January at 11.8%. Also unchanged were Orange County at 8.0% and San Diego at 9.3%.

In Ventura County the jobless rate declined to 9.6% in February from 9.8% the month before. The unemployment rate in San Bernardino and Riverside counties increased to 12.5% last month from 12.4% in January.

Times staff writer Ricardo Lopez contributed to this report.