California's unemployment rate ticked down last month as the state slowly recouped some of its lost jobs, even as the state continued to rack up coronavirus cases.
September joblessness was 11%, down from 11.2% in August, state officials reported Friday. That compares with just 3.9% in September of last year.
California has regained 38% of the 2.6 million jobs lost in March and April as the pandemic devastated the economy. In September, payrolls grew by 96,000 non-farm jobs to 15.98 million, below August's gain of 113,800. A year earlier, the state counted 17.41 million non-farm jobs.
"California's labor market recovery is clearly decelerating," said Scott Anderson, chief economist of the Bank of the West in San Francisco. "Virus cases are on the rise, wildfires are decimating California communities, and federal government support is running dry."
The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to spread across California, with experts saying the true number of people infected is unknown and likely much higher than official tallies. Confirmed cases statewide since the start of the outbreak topped 869,000 as of Friday. The death toll exceeded 16,800.
The nationwide job market was considerably brighter than California's last month. The U.S. unemployment rate at 7.9% in September was lower than California's. Since February, California has lost 9.2% of its payroll jobs, compared with 7% nationwide.
More than 2 million Californians were counted as unemployed in September, but that doesn't include hundreds of thousands of discouraged workers who have dropped out of the job market. The labor force, which includes both job holders and job seekers, has shrunk by 850,000 people since February - pushing down the state's official unemployment rate.
Many California businesses remain closed, and economists warn that the job market will not strongly recover until the virus is under control.
"If we keep adding jobs at September's rate, the state will not return to February's level of employment until sometime in 2022," said Taner Osman, research manager at Beacon Economics, a Los Angeles consultancy. "That's sobering news for those who have lost work since the outbreak of the pandemic."
The discouraging jobs report comes as negotiations between the Trump administration and Congressional Democrats over renewing federal unemployment benefits, along with aid to local and state governments, have broken down. Democrats want a larger stimulus package than Republican are willing to approve.