LA County Adds 34,000 Jobs in March as Unemployment Rate Drops

LA County Adds 34,000 Jobs in March as Unemployment Rate Drops
Patrons dining at outside of Urth Cafe in Pasadena. (Photo by Ringo Chiu). - Los Angeles Business Journal

Los Angeles County’s economic recovery continued in March as employers added 34,000 jobs to their payrolls and the unemployment rate dipped to 11.3%, according to state figures released April 16.

The growth in jobs and the drop in unemployment came as the local and national economy saw accelerated business reopenings and reduced restrictions as the pandemic eased up following a devastating early winter surge.

The state Employment Development Department reported that the unemployment rate dropped slightly from February’s 11.5%, though it was still double the 5.4% rate in March 2020, just before the pandemic lockdown hit. And it remained higher than the 8.3% statewide rate and was nearly double the nationwide rate of 6.0% for March.

The main reason for the dip in the county's March unemployment rate was a decrease of 12,000 in the labor force to just over 5.1 million county residents.

A drop in the labor force typically signifies more people giving up looking for work or otherwise leaving the labor force. But the March decline followed a huge surge in February of 242,000 new entrants into the labor force, so it may represent more of an adjustment after that surge than a broader trend.

The EDD also provided a breakout of unemployment rates by city. The rate for the county’s largest city, Los Angeles, was 10.6% while the rate for the second-largest city, Long Beach, was 11.5%.

The cities with the highest unemployment rate in the county were Lancaster and Palmdale, both with 15.6% readings. The lowest rate for a city with significant residential and employment centers was San Marino at 3.4%

On the closely watched payroll jobs front, the EDD reported that employers in L.A. County had 4.11 million people on their payrolls in March, a jump of 34,200 from February and an increase of 48,000 over January. The total number of payroll jobs added in February and March was 82,000, one of the largest two-month gains in county history after last June’s record gain of 147,000 jobs.

However, the county was still down 525,000 payroll jobs from its pre-pandemic peak of 4.63 million in February 2020, a drop of 11.2%.

The biggest payroll jobs gains in March were again in the accommodations/food services sector, which grew by 9,600 positions. Restaurants accounted for 5,400 of those gains. The county lifted the ban on indoor dining at restaurants on March 15, in the middle of the EDD’s survey period.

The professional/business services sector added 6,400 jobs in March, while motion picture/sound recording added 3,000 jobs.

No sector of the local economy reported significant net job losses in March as compared to February. Two sectors — financial activities and construction — were essentially flat in terms of employment.

For the 12 months between March 2020 and March 2021, the number of payroll jobs in L.A. County fell by 456,000 or 10%. This will likely be the last month with such a large year-over-year percentage drop; starting with the April jobs report, year-over-year comparisons will use the lockdown-impacted figures as the base.

Not surprisingly, the accommodation/food services sector posted the biggest drop over that 12-month period, shedding 116,000 jobs. That was followed by motion picture/sound recording (down 48,400 jobs), professional/business services (down 42,100 jobs) and manufacturing (down 34,000).

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