California returns to job growth in March, but unemployment rate remains highest in nation

Don Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

For the second month in a row, California posted the highest unemployment rate in the country, according to new data for March. And it was one of only two states, the other being Nevada, with a March jobless rate above 5%, said the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On the positive side, data released Friday by the state's Employment Development Department showed that California's job growth turned upward last month, though the improvement still lagged behind the national average.

California's jobless rate remained steady at 5.3% last month, even as unemployment for the nation ticked down to 3.8% in March.

Over the last year, California's employment growth has been lagging behind the nation as a whole, in large part due to the deleterious effects of high interest rates on three pillars of the state's economy — high-tech, entertainment and housing.

Analysts say that near-term job growth in California is likely to remain comparatively weak, but prospects down the road look brighter.

Despite the immediate hiring doldrums, the state's budget woes — including costs for unemployment claims — and stubbornly high inflation, experts think California will not fall into a recession or lead the country into a downturn.


For one thing, the broader U.S. economy is continuing to expand nicely. The nation's gross domestic product, or total economic output, likely expanded by a robust 3% in the first quarter, according to analysts' forecasts. The GDP report will be released Thursday.

California's greater reliance on sectors such as real estate that are highly sensitive to interest rates for financing and investing has hampered the state.

Even so, unlike the housing bust that brought on the Great Recession in 2007-09, many homeowners aren't struggling with underwater loans or failing to keep up with payments. The overwhelming majority of people in California and the rest of the country have jobs and most homeowners are locked in at fixed rate mortgages that are considerably lower than the current rate of around 7%.

"In general, housing often functions as a trigger or force multiplier in a recession in California," said G.U. Krueger, a longtime housing economist in Los Angeles.


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