Los Angeles County's unemployment rate rose slightly to 5.3 percent in February from a revised 5.1 percent in January as more people jumped into the job market.

But the rate was still substantially lower than the 5.7 percent posted a year ago, according to figures released Friday from the state Employment Development Department

Furthermore, the county added 22,000 non-farm payroll jobs in February compared to January as nearly every major industry sector saw employment gains after the traditional post-holiday lull.

Not only were February non-farm payroll jobs up 0.6 percent to 4,036,700 but they were also up 1.4 percent from February 2005 as the county gained 54,000 jobs during that 12-month period. That's a substantially better performance than the average 1 percent year-over-year job growth the county has seen in recent months.

Total civilian employment also rose 28,000 or 0.6 percent in February to 4,602,000 from January. However, that was more than offset by an increase of 35,000 in the labor pool as more people were looking for work, leading to the rise in the unemployment rate.

Over the past year, civilian employment which is a measure of jobs by household grew by 90,000, or 2 percent. This relatively robust growth is due to the increasing prominence of the "informal economy" of consultants, sole proprietors and others not counted on company payrolls.

Statewide, a net of 31,000 jobs were added to payrolls in February, bringing the total count to 14,967,000. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate rose slightly to 5.0 percent from a revised 4.8 percent in January, though it was down from 5.6 percent in Feb. 2005.

Los Angeles County's unemployment rate, which was substantially higher than virtually all of its neighbors, helped drive the statewide increase in unemployment.

As for February's payroll jobs, the biggest gains were in education, especially colleges, universities and professional schools, which added 5,000 jobs over the month. Also, professions and business services saw an increase of 5,000 jobs, driven mostly by a seasonal jump in accounting, tax preparation and bookkeeping.

Over the past 12 months, the biggest job gains have come in the leisure and hospitality sector, which jumped 12,000 jobs. Most of that growth has come from restaurants and specialty food service.

Another big gainer was trade, with 6,300 jobs being added over the past 12 months in retail trade and 3,000 in wholesale trade.

Only the manufacturing sector saw a significant drop in jobs over the past year as a net 5,500 jobs disappeared from payrolls.

At the local level, the city of Los Angeles posted a 6.2 percent unemployment rate, while Long Beach recorded a rate of 6.3 percent. Both were virtually unchanged from January.

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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