L.A. County's unemployment rate dropped to 5.2 percent in January from 5.5 percent in December as fewer people were looking for work.


But the county lost 60,000 non-farm payroll jobs in January compared to December as all major industry groups saw seasonal payroll declines after the holiday period, according to figures released Friday from the state Employment Development Department. January payroll jobs were down 1.5 percent to about 4 million.


But L.A. County is still better off on the jobs front than a year ago. The county gained 50,000 non-farm payroll jobs, or 1.2 percent, from January 2005.


Total civilian employment in January in Los Angeles County also saw a slight seasonal drop of 13,000 jobs, or 1.4 percent, to about 4.85 million compared to December. But that's still up 93,000 jobs, or 2.1 percent, from January 2005.


The small seasonal decline in civilian employment was more than offset by the drop of 17,000 in the county's civilian labor pool as people either left the area, gave up looking for work or dropped out of the labor force for other reasons. This in turn led to the drop in unemployment.


Statewide, the unemployment rate dropped to 5.4 percent in January from 5.8 percent in December and 6.2 percent in January 2005. But unlike in L.A. County, the state eked out an increase of 18,300 non-farm payroll jobs in January, a gain of just 0.1 percent from December. Thanks to a more robust job market earlier in 2005, the state gained 290,000 jobs, or 2 percent, between January 2005 and January 2006.


Despite its drop in unemployment, Los Angeles County lags behind nearly all of its neighbors, where unemployment rates are generally in the 4 percent range.


All of the 2005 figures for both the county and state have been revised as part of the EDD's annual benchmarking process where the statistical models are updated to reflect changes in the job market.


Throughout last year, the gap between payroll jobs and civilian employment (which counts household employment) grew consistently wider. This was especially true in Los Angeles County with its large concentrations of contract and self-employed workers.


As for January's payroll jobs, every major industrial sector in Los Angeles County saw declines from December. The biggest drops were in retail trade (20,200 jobs), the previously strong professional and business services sector (down 8,400 jobs) and colleges and universities (down 5,700 jobs).


Over the past year, though, several sectors recorded substantial gains. Among them: construction (13,300 jobs), trade, transportation and utilities (up 9,800 jobs) and leisure and hospitality (up 9,700 jobs).


Only the manufacturing sector posted a significant year-over-year decline of 6,300 jobs.


At the local level, the city of Los Angeles posted an unemployment rate of 6.3 in January, while Long Beach recorded a rate of 6.2 percent. Both figures were up from 5.8 percent in December.


The lowest unemployment rate among L.A. County cities with more than 100,000 population was Torrance, at 2.6 percent, followed by Santa Clarita, at 3.1 percent. The highest unemployment rate among larger cities was Lancaster at 7.5 percent, followed by Inglewood at 6.8 percent.

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