L.A. County’s unemployment rate surged to a modern-day record of 19.6% in April as employers shed 690,000 jobs in the face of business shutdowns triggered by Covid-19, according to state figures released May 22.

Data from the Employment Development Department shows the county’s unemployment rate last month far exceeded the statewide average of 15.5% and the national average of 14.7%, both record highs.

The EDD also released a revised March unemployment rate for L.A. County of 6.7%, up from the initial figure of 6.3% reported in April.

The 19.6% rate for April leapfrogged every recorded unemployment peak since county-specific record keeping began in 1976, including the Great Recession high of 12.6% in October 2010, the 10.8% mark during the Reagan-era recession of late 1982/early 1983 and the 10.4% level reached in the local aerospace collapse in December 1992.

County-specific unemployment rates were not recorded during the Great Depression when the national rate peaked at 25.4% in late 1932.

For comparison, the county's unemployment rate in April 2019 — when the economy was running on all cylinders — was 4.5%, a level not likely to be seen again for several years.

The unemployment rate is based on a household survey of L.A. County residents, meaning that nearly one in five residents in the labor force said they were not working in April. The number of people who reported that they were unemployed in April increased by nearly 600,000 from March, bringing the total to 931,000 out of a labor force of 4.75 million.

Data drawn from employer payrolls was just as stark, with a 15% one-month drop in payrolls to a countywide total of 3.88 million, by far the steepest drop recorded.

L.A. County’s tourism industry was hit especially hard. The leisure/hospitality sector shed 195,000 jobs last month, leaving the sector with 323,000 jobs, its lowest level in 22 years.

Within that category, food services and drinking establishments lost 147,000 jobs, with full-service restaurants accounting for two-thirds of that total.

Retail establishments, most of which were ordered closed during the Covid-19 lockdown, shed 88,000 jobs. The professional/business services sector cut 86,000 jobs while health care/social assistance lost 77,000 jobs. And manufacturing employment fell by 51,000 jobs to 277,000, the lowest level since record keeping began in 1976.

Indeed, virtually every major industry in the county shed more than 10,000 jobs from their payrolls in the most sweeping single-month downturn to hit the county's economy.

For the 12-month period ending in April, employer payrolls in L.A. County dropped by a seasonally adjusted 675,000. That includes declines in March as the lockdown's impact began to be felt.

Health care/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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