L.A. County's unemployment rate shot up to 8.9 percent in November, it's highest level in 14 years, as the recession continued hammering the region's construction, retail and manufacturing sectors and spread to the leisure and food service industries, according to state figures released Friday morning.


The unemployment rate jumped from a revised 8.3 percent in October and was well above the 5.3 percent level of a year ago, the state Employment Development Department reported.


Meanwhile, the county has shed more than 20,000 non-farm payroll jobs over the past year, with the biggest losses coming in retail, construction and financial services.


"It's very gloomy out there right now. So many industries have been hit very hard and are cutting back very quickly. We haven't seen anything like this since the early 1990s," said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Department.


Indeed, L.A. County is now underperforming the rest of the state and the nation. The statewide unemployment rate rose to 8.4 percent from 8.2 percent in November and 5.7 percent in November 2007. The national unemployment rate in November was 6.7 percent, the third highest in the nation.


"Los Angeles is the first stop for many people coming into the state looking for work," Kyser said, noting that the total labor force rose by 16,000 from October to November.


Also, in this labor force household survey, 29,000 more people reported they were unemployed in November compared to October. That contrasts with a reported gain of 5,000 in non-farm payrolls over that same period, meaning that many of the job losses are hitting independent contractors, day laborers and others who are not on payrolls.


In the other closely watched employment barometer, L.A. County continues to shed jobs on a year-over-year basis at a rate of 0.5 percent, losing 20,400 non-farm payroll jobs between November 2007 and November 2008 to reach 4,118,700 jobs. The biggest job losses came in retail (down 16,700), manufacturing (down 10,700), construction (down 7,100) and financial activities (off 6,900).


The biggest gains were in the entertainment industry, which added 12,500 jobs from levels of a year ago when the writers' strike took hold. "Some of this gain is due to the fact we had a writers' strike a year ago. But also, the studios are discounting the prospect of an actors' strike next month by going ahead and ramping up feature film production for next year," Kyser said.


Other bright spots included health care, which added 8,300 jobs year-over-year and government, which added 3,000 jobs in the past year. Government even added 2,700 jobs between October and November, despite rapidly deteriorating budgets.


"That's a little unexpected," Kyser said. "We've heard about local governments struggling and instituting hiring freezes, but so far, that's not showing up in the numbers. It's now looking like the cuts will kick in next year."

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