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LA County Unemployment Dips Below 10% for First Time Since Pandemic Began

Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate fell to 9.8% in September, dropping into the single digits for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began, according to state figures released Oct. 22.

Meanwhile, according to Employment Development Department, the state added 31,500 jobs in September as many schools and universities started up a new academic year.

But these added jobs were not the main factor driving down the unemployment rate from 10.1% in August. Rather, the size of the labor force fell by 13,000 to 5,086,000 as many L.A. County residents dropped out of the workforce to return to school, care for children or family members, or wait for better job prospects.

Whatever the reason, the county’s unemployment rate was well below the 13% reported a year ago in September 2020 and less than half of the peak rate of 21.1% reached in May 2020 at the maximum extent of the pandemic-related shutdown of much of the economy.

Yet L.A. County is one of the last in the state to see its unemployment rate dip back into the single digits. The statewide rate has been below 10% for much of this year, reaching 7.5% in September. And the national unemployment rate was 4.6%, edging back toward what many economists consider to be full employment.

The EDD also released a breakdown of unemployment rates for cities within the county. The two largest cities, Los Angeles and Long Beach, posted seasonally unadjusted rates of 8.2% and 8.9% respectively. Among cities with at least 10,000 people in the labor force, Compton had the highest unemployment rate of 12.1% while Lomita had the lowest at 4.4%.

Meanwhile, employers in L.A. County reported a net 31,500 more jobs on their payrolls in September than in August. About 25,000 of those added jobs came from the education sector as many schools started their academic year, most with at least some in-person classes. Public K-12 educational institutions added 15,700 jobs to their payrolls while private education, including private colleges and universities, added roughly 6,100 jobs.

The EDD releases another payroll jobs figure that adjusts for seasonal factors, especially in the education sector. That seasonally adjusted figure for August showed a drop of 18,400 jobs in September from August. But that followed a net gain of 78,000 jobs in August from July.

Outside of the education sector, the job gains in September were rather modest, led by leisure/hospitality (up 3,200 jobs) and healthcare/social assistance (up 2,300 jobs).

Two sectors reported substantial net job losses in September from August: personal and laundry services (down 1,300 jobs) and financial activities (down 1,000 jobs). Professional/business services and construction held essentially flat in September from August levels.

The 4.28 million total payroll jobs for September reflected a gain of about 432,000 jobs since the worst of the pandemic lockdown in April 2020. But it’s down about 340,000 jobs from February 2020, the peak month before the lockdown, and down 282,000 from September 2019, showing the county still has a long way to go to reach pre-pandemic payroll job levels.

Since September of last year, the county gained a net 255,000 payroll jobs for an increase of 6.3%, a slightly slower growth rate than the 6.9% reported between August 2020 and this past August.

The accommodation/food services sector gained the most payroll jobs (up 67,200 jobs) between September 2020 and September 2021, followed by arts/entertainment/recreation (up 38,000 jobs) and professional/business services (up 31,000 jobs). The motion picture/sound recording industry gained 23,000 payroll jobs over the past year.

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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