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L.A. County Unemployment Climbs Back Over 5% in August Amid Modest Hiring Gains

Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate, which had dipped below 5% in July for the first time since the pandemic hit, climbed back over that threshold in August, reaching 5.2% amid a modest gain of 8,000 jobs for the month, according to state figures released on September 16.

The rise in the unemployment rate was due to a combination of factors: roughly 12,000 fewer L.A. County residents reporting they had jobs, along with a slight jump of 5,000 in the number of residents entering the labor force looking for work. That increase brought the labor force to 5.05 million in August, according to the figures supplied by the state Employment Development Department.

Nonetheless, the county’s 5.2% unemployment rate was significantly below the 8.5% reported in August of last year and way below the peak unemployment rate of 19.2% reached during the height of the pandemic lockdown in May 2020.

However, the county rate was still higher than the statewide level of 4.1% and the nationwide average of 3.7% for August. Both of these figures were close to pre-pandemic August 2019.

The two largest cities in Los Angeles County – Los Angeles and Long Beach – reported August unemployment rates of 5.0% and 5.2%, respectively, according to city breakout data supplied by the EDD. Among cities with labor forces exceeding 10,000, Lancaster posted the highest unemployment rate, at 7%, while Lomita had the lowest rate, 2.3%

The increase in the unemployment rate came despite Los Angeles County reporting a net gain of 8,000 nonfarm jobs for a total of almost exactly 4.5 million.

The county has now gained back 85% of the 785,000 jobs shed in the Covid pandemic lockdown of spring 2020. But that still leaves the county roughly 120,000 jobs short of the pre-pandemic peak in February 2020 of 4.62 million.

The picture is slightly better when compared to pre-pandemic August 2019. The county is just 27,000 jobs short of the 4.53 million reported in that month.

Looking at how the county’s various industries performed in August, education led the way, gaining nearly 6,000 nonfarm jobs from July as many schools re-opened after a two-month summer recess. The gains were mostly in local K-12 education, not surprising since classes resumed at the Los Angeles Unified School District in mid-August.

The EDD also released a seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment figure for Los Angeles County, accounting for this traditional August gain in education employment. That figure showed a small increase of 2,100 jobs in August from July.

Other sectors reporting net job gains in August were: transportation/warehousing (up 1,900 jobs), health services (up 1,500) and construction (up 900).

Several industries reported small dips in jobs, led by repair/maintenance shops, with a net loss of 700 jobs.

The accommodation/food services sector, which was hit the hardest during the pandemic lockdown and had seen the sharpest rebound, appeared to have hit a plateau in August, with a gain of just 700 jobs to 412,000. Whether this signifies the end of the pandemic recovery in this sector will be seen in coming months.

For the 12-month period ending in August, nonfarm payrolls in the county increased by 139,000, or 3.2%. Professional/business services led the way with a net gain of about 30,000 jobs over that yearlong period. Accommodation/food services and healthcare/social assistance each gained roughly 23,000 jobs, followed by retail trade, which rose by a net 16,600 jobs.

The local government sector lost the most jobs on net during the 12 months ending in August, shedding 13,500 jobs. The highly volatile motion picture/sound recording industry lost a net 7,000 jobs during that same period.

Howard Fine
Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.
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