SACRAMENTO (AP) — California’s jobless rate fell half a percentage point in December as the most populous state added 50,700 nonfarm jobs, accounting for more than a quarter of the country’s 199,000 new jobs for the month, according to new data released Friday .
The state has now regained almost 72% of the 2.7 million jobs it lost in the first few months of the pandemic when Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed the nation’s first statewide house arrest order in spring 2020 to slow the spread of the coronavirus .
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“In a tug-of-war between the positive economic momentum of the state’s economy and the headwinds of COVID, the California economy is making slow but steady progress,” said Sung Won Sohn, finance and economics professor at Loyola Marymount University.
However, he noted that the full impact of the Omicron wave had yet to be felt when the mid-month jobless survey went live.
This has forced airlines to cancel holiday flights, companies to let employees work from home and schools to return to online teaching, among others. It also prompted more parents to stay at home, contributing to what has come to be known as the “great resignation” phenomenon.
California’s unemployment rate of 6.5% is down from 9.3% a year ago as the state added nearly a million jobs since December 2020, the state Employment Development Department reported. Last month’s hiring surge still lagged behind an average gain of 97,200 jobs in earlier months of last year, before slowing in November and now December.
California also stayed well above the national unemployment rate of 3.9%.
The hard-hit leisure and hospitality sector led the rise last month by adding more than 15,000 jobs, with significant gains in food service and drinking establishments, the department said, despite pressure from the latest Omicron wave.
Ten of California’s 11 industrial sectors added jobs in December, and the professional and business services sector has now regained all the jobs it lost at the start of the pandemic.
A 6% increase in nonfarm payrolls in 2021 is the biggest increase in a calendar year for the state since 1990, the ministry said.
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But a big problem remains the “disappearing workforce in California,” said Michael Bernick, former director of employment development and attorney at law firm Duane Morris.
The state remains nearly 920,000 workers short of where it was employed in January 2020, just before the pandemic, he said.
New state-level job turnover data showed 1.1 million job openings in California at the end of November, a number that has held up since August even as employers scramble to find workers. Nevertheless, there were 415,000 voluntary resignations in November.
“Employers continue to report that even job seekers who respond to job offers do not show up for interviews,” Bernick said.
Officials revised the state’s November unemployment rate by 0.1 percentage point to 7%, adding 3,500 unemployed to its previous figure.
Nearly 356,000 people qualified for unemployment insurance during sample week in December, up from nearly 435,000 in November and more than 1 million a year ago. More than 49,000 initial claims were processed during the model week, more than 3,600 fewer than in November and more than 110,000 fewer than a year ago.
Colusa and Imperial counties posted double-digit unemployment rates last month, the worst in the state, while wealthier counties of Marin, San Mateo and Santa Clara in the San Francisco Bay Area had the lowest rates at under 3%.
“This year we will continue to take action to get more people back to work and to support our businesses hardest hit by the pandemic,” Newsom said in a statement.
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