L.A. County's job engine slowed in April as both job creation and the unemployment rate were virtually unchanged from March.

The county posted a gain of only 3,300 non-farm jobs, or 0.1 percent, in April, for a total of 4,128,400 jobs. That's a significant slowing from the rate of previous months, though it's up 48,200 jobs, or 1.2 percent, from April 2006, according to the State Economic Development Department.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate was unchanged in April from March at a seasonally adjusted 5.0 percent, slightly higher than the 4.8 percent reading from April 2006.

"Things were kind of anemic in April. Businesses are being cautious right now, especially those businesses serving the consumer market," said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "Both higher energy costs and the housing slowdown have hit consumers in the pocketbook."

Statewide, the picture was slightly worse, as payroll employment edged up only 7,400 jobs, or 0.05 percent, to 15,250,200. The unemployment rate actually rose to 5.1 percent in April from 4.8 percent in March and 5.0 percent in April 2006.

In Los Angeles County, the mediocre April jobs figures were dragged down by a 4.3 percent drop in motion picture and sound recording employment, which posted a loss of 5,700 jobs. Kyser noted that employment in this sector has slowed considerably since the beginning of the year, offsetting gains late last year.

"We're watching this figure closely, because several of the television networks are talking about stockpiling product in case of a writers' strike this fall," he said. The writers' contract expires in October; Kyser said jobs in this sector might spike this summer before dropping precipitously in the fall.

Meanwhile, the county's long-term slide in manufacturing employment came to a temporary halt in April as the number of jobs in this sector was unchanged from March at 458,300. However, that's still down 1.5 percent from April 2006 and Kyser said he expects the downward trend to resume in coming months.

Construction employment, another closely watched sector, has fallen by only 600 jobs over the past year, a drop of 0.4 percent. Many had expected a steeper decline because of the housing slowdown.

"Overall, the construction sector has managed to hold its own. But the area that's really been hit hard is specialty construction contractors," especially building foundation and building finishing contractors, Kyser said. Year-over-year employment is off more than 2 percent in each of these segments.

On the positive side, the educational and health services sector has seen particularly robust job growth over the past year, adding 17,200 jobs, or 3.6 percent. Health care and social assistance jobs posted a gain of 10,100, while educational services rose 7,100.

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