Employers in Los Angeles County added nearly 68,000 jobs to their payrolls last year for a job growth rate of 1.5%, despite a slight drop of 2,500 jobs in December, according to state figures released Jan. 24.

The state Employment Development Department also reported that the county’s unemployment rate remained at 4.4% in December, the fourth straight month at that level as the county continues to hover near full employment.

The unemployment rate was unchanged because of the near parity between the number of county residents joining the labor force and the number of additional residents reporting they had jobs. About 18,000 people joined the labor force looking for work to bring the county’s total labor force to nearly 5.16 million. And 19,000 more people reported holding jobs to bring the total of L.A. County residents with jobs to 4.93 million.

Yet the county’s unemployment rate was higher than both the statewide average rate of 3.9% and the national average rate of 3.5%.

On the payroll employment front, net job growth last year was 67,800 for a 1.5% growth rate. That was slightly better than the net gain of 60,000 jobs for all of 2018, which represented a growth rate of 1.3%. This defied earlier predictions of a jobs slowdown due to rising trade tensions and higher interest rates.

Job growth last year was led by the health care/social assistance sector, which gained a net 28,000 jobs. More than two-thirds of that growth came from social assistance (up 19,600), driven in part by the flow of countywide Measure H sales tax revenue into services for the homeless. Measure H, passed by voters in 2017, generates roughly $350 million a year; last year, the county moved to streamline the process for allocating those funds to nonprofit social service providers.

Other sectors with hefty net job gains last year included construction (up 12,300), professional/business services (up 11,200) and leisure/hospitality (up 8,800).

Motion picture/sound recording was the only sector posting significant net job losses last year, shedding roughly 9,000 jobs for a 6.6% drop.

The December jobs picture was not so rosy as county employers reported a net drop from November of 2,500 in their payrolls to 4.65 million. Motion picture/sound recording was the sector reporting the biggest net job loss of 8,500, followed by leisure/hospitality (down 3,800) and professional/business services (down 3,300).

The retail sector posted the biggest gain between November and December, adding a net 4,500 jobs, thanks to the shortened holiday shopping season caused by the late Thanksgiving holiday. Other sectors reporting net job gains were transportation/warehousing/utilities (up 4,000) and health care/social assistance (up 2,200). The gains in transportation and warehousing employment were likely due to increasing levels of shipping for online orders.

The EDD also releases a seasonally adjusted payroll figure, which accounts for seasonal job changes such as the surge in holiday retail hiring. That figure showed a drop of 5,200 jobs between November and December.

Healthcare/biomed, energy, engineering/construction and infrastructure reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardafine.

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