Among the most-cited statistics by local business leaders is this: We have fewer jobs right now in Los Angeles County than we did in 1990, even though the population has grown by 1 million people since then.

But they may not be able to trot out that line at local luncheon speeches much longer. That’s because the number of jobs locally has taken a big jump.

There were 4,155,300 non-farm jobs in Los Angeles County in February, according to the state’s Employment Development Department. That’s close to the all-time high of 4,196,700, set in February 1990.

What’s behind the leap in local jobs? Is it because employers have suddenly started staffing up big time?

Alas, no. It’s because the government has changed the way it counts. Reporter Howard Fine discovered that 200,000 jobs in the county were “found” in December because workers formerly excluded from the count were included. Most of them, more than 100,000, are home health care workers.

Those folks were not included in the 1990 count. So if you take them out of today’s count to get an apples-to-apples comparison, we’re still close to a quarter of a million jobs behind 1990’s number. Bummer.

But going forward, the government will include those “found” jobs in its monthly count of payroll, non-farm jobs. And assuming that the economy does reasonably well and local employment grows modestly, then soon, perhaps a month or three, we’ll eclipse the old record.

The best part of that: We will finally be shed of that familiar and embarrassing luncheon-speech statistic. We will instead hear that now – finally! – Los Angeles has more payroll jobs than ever before.

Even if there is a big asterisk.

• • •

There’s an important sidebar to the local employment picture. The jobs referenced above are actual, on-the-payroll jobs. Those workers are full-time employees who typically get benefits and vacation time.

But there’s the other kind of employment – the off-the-books kind. They are the informal jobs you traditionally thought of, such as handymen and baby sitters, and some you may not have thought of, such as marketing folks, accounting clerks and some journalists. Those folks may have gotten laid off or never even had a payroll job but are working freelance, perhaps for their ex-employer on a project-by-project basis, and without benefits.

Those off-the-payroll jobs have been growing since 1990 while the number of payroll jobs has not.

So if you find yourself asking: How can this be? How can L.A.’s population keep growing while the payrolls have been stagnant-to-decreasing for two decades? How are people getting by?

This is the answer: More people are working informally, project to project, assignment to assignment. Los Angeles is becoming a freelance economy.

• • •

One of the reasons California has been named the country’s No. 1 “Judicial Hellhole” again this year is that it still abets runaway lawsuits against businesses, mostly small businesses, that are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

A reform was passed two years ago after Sen. Dianne Feinstein threatened to take action nationally if the state didn’t rein in abusive ADA lawsuits. But, alas, the “reform” was a cynical ploy. It just allowed plaintiffs’ lawyers to take a different tack. And now they’re back at it, shaking down mom-and-pop shops for $4,000 or more if the coat hook on the bathroom door is an inch too high or some such. (For more, see the article in last week’s Business Journal.)

There’s a simple fix: give businesses a reasonable time period to fix their ADA violations – say, 60 days for minor violations to six or nine months for major, structural ones. That way, the businesses aren’t being shaken down and the buildings are made accessible to the disabled, which is what the ADA was supposed to accomplish. If the businesses don’t comply within the time period, fine, sue away.

And then we’ll see if the plaintiffs’ lawyers – many of whom claim they’re only filing ADA lawsuits for the benefit of the handicapped – will still “represent” the disabled when their handsome payday is taken away.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com.

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