SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California employers added 41,400 new jobs in April, dropping the state's unemployment rate to the lowest its been since the start of the pandemic following 14 consecutive months of growth.
The nation's most populous state has now regained more than 91% of the 2.7 million jobs lost in March and April 2020, back at the start of the pandemic when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the nation's first statewide stay-at-home order that forced many businesses to close.
California's labor force — the number of people who either have jobs or are looking for work — added 111,800 people in April, an encouraging sign for employers who have had trouble finding workers to keep up with surging demand for goods and services.
“These are encouraging signs indicating that California's economy is gradually returning to normal,” said Sung Won Sohn, a professor of economics at Loyola Marymount University who closely monitors California's economy.
But there are troubling signs on the horizon. California's job growth isn't what it could have been, as indicated by nearly 1.28 million job openings across the state at the end of March. Inflation remains high, with average gas prices in the state hitting a record-high of $6.06 per gallon on Friday. Home sales — which have reached record highs during the pandemic — have slowed following a rapid rise in mortgage rates.
“In the last five decades, a similar collection of economic conditions has occurred six times. Each of those six times a recession has occurred within two years (and often sooner),” the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office wrote earlier this week in assessing California and the nation's heightened risk of an economic downturn.
With 39 million residents — accounting for more than 11% of the U.S. population — the health of California's economy is key to the nation as a whole. From January 2021 to January 2022, California jobs grew 7.4% compared to the national rate of 4.6%, according to the California Employment Development Department.
Of course, one reason California has been able to add so many jobs in the past year is because of the staggering number of jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic. It's taken more than two years for the state to regain more than 90% of those job losses.
Still, new unemployment claims in California remain high, with the state accounting for nearly 24% of all new jobless claims in the country. California's accounts for about 11% of the U.S. labor force.
“It's a picture of a state economy that’s recovering, but I would say in danger of going backward or stalling,” said Michael Bernick, an attorney with Duane Morris and a former director of the California Employment Development Department.
Close to 80% of California's job gains came from its major population centers in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. Santa Clara and Marin counties had the lowest unemployment rates in the state at 2.1%, while rural Imperial County along the U.S.-Mexico border had the highest unemployment rate at 11.7%.
Statewide, eight of California's industry sectors added new jobs in April. The biggest increase was in the leisure and hospitality sector, which was the hardest hit during the pandemic because of the restrictions on public gatherings. The information sector — which includes things like publishing, motion pictures and sound recording, telecommunications, and broadcasting — added 2,200 new jobs as the industry has now regained all of its employment losses during the pandemic.
The biggest job losses came in construction, which lost 13,200 jobs in April. State officials said most of the losses came from foundation, exterior and finishing contractors, who were impacted by rain in April.