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California job growth was healthy in August, but the labor force is shrinking

Margot Roosevelt, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

California's record job expansion accelerated in August across broad sectors of the economy and unemployment remained low as the state weathered the challenges of slowing global growth.

Employers added 34,000 positions last month -- the 114th month that payrolls grew and the longest expansion in state record-keeping, state officials reported. Since the post-recession turnaround began in February 2010, California has gained more than 3.3 million jobs, accounting for 15% of U.S. job growth -- more than its share of the nation's population.

California's major stalwarts -- business and professional services, health and education, and tourism -- led the August advance. Government hiring was also strong, boosted in part by workers for the 2020 census.

Unemployment in August held steady at 4.1%, the same as in July and as in August 2018 -- an indication that the state's economy is close to full employment -- with economists believing that most people who want jobs can get them. The U.S. jobless rate was 3.7%.

"It is time to celebrate," said Sung Won Sohn, a business economist at Loyola Marymount University. "The average monthly job gain over the past three months was 30,667 compared to the average of 27,800 during the first half of the year. The economy is moving full steam ahead."

Nonetheless, economists continued to point to California's shrinking labor force -- the number of people holding jobs and looking for jobs -- as a danger signal.

 

"The state is short of both skilled and nonskilled labor," Sohn said. "In the past, the sizzling job market has persuaded students, mothers, retirees and those on disability to rejoin the labor market, but the pool has shrunk. If the trend continues, labor force will limit job growth in the future."

The Golden State's labor force shrank by 7,800 in August, after dropping by 34,000 in July. Over the last year, it has declined by 0.2% even as the nation's labor force expanded by 1.3%.

"The strength of the labor market should be attracting more job seekers," said Lynn Reaser, an economist at Point Loma Nazarene University. "The decline may reflect the impact of prime wage seekers leaving California for lower housing costs, as well as a slowing of immigration from other countries."

She added that the state's overall jobs report shows "California's resilience in the face of slowing global growth, tariffs, trade wars and policy threats towards the state's tech companies. Lower interest rates have buffered some of these constraints."

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