California unemployment rate slightly increases in March

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California's unemployment rate edged up slightly in March even as the state continued adding jobs, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday.

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The rate increased a tenth of a percentage point over February, to 4.3 percent, and is back where it was a year ago.

The state's employers added 24,500 nonfarm payroll jobs in March, or more than 3.16 million since the economic expansion began in February 2010.

The 108 consecutive months of employment expansion is nearing the longest employment expansion since World War II, said Michael Bernick, the department's former director and now a fellow at the Milken Institute. The longest post-war boom lasted 113 months before ending in December 1969.

But Sung Won Sohn, chief economist at the SS Economics consulting firm, warned that "aches and pains associated with the aging economic recovery process are beginning to show up."

He primarily blamed labor shortages aggravated by the high cost of housing and doing business in the state.

"The state could be running out of potential new workers," he said in an email. On the upside, lower mortgage rates and an easing of foreign trade tensions could spur continued economic growth.

The construction sector has gained steadily since 2010 and had the largest increase of 9,400 jobs last month, driven by good weather and lower interest rates on housing.

It was one of nine sectors that together added more than 30,000 jobs in March. The others were professional and business services, manufacturing, educational and health services, information, other services, leisure and hospitality, government, and mining and logging.

Manufacturing gained nearly 5,000 jobs and now stands at 1.3 million — "not bad for a sector that has long been declared dead in California," Bernick said in an email.

Two industries reported job losses. Trade, transportation and utilities dropped 5,800 jobs while the financial sector was down slightly.

California's jobless rate remained above the national unemployment rate of 3.8 percent.

About 838,000 Californians remained unemployed, up more than 14,000 over February. Nearly 388,000 people were receiving regular unemployment insurance benefits, down slightly from February. There were nearly 40,000 new claims in March, up slightly.

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