Business & Economy

CA's unemployment rate hits 5 percent, the lowest in 10 years

California's unemployment rate inched down to 5 percent, the lowest it's been in 10 years.
California's unemployment rate inched down to 5 percent, the lowest it's been in 10 years.
Matt Rourke/AP

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California employers added 23,000 new jobs in February, bringing the state's unemployment rate to 5 percent, its lowest level in 10 years.

Labor data, released Friday by the state's Employment Development Department, showed California has gained more than 2.5 million jobs since the economic recovery began in 2010.

"The fact that we are now at a rate that prevailed prior to the Great Recession really speaks to the fact that we have had more than a full recovery at this point," said Robert Kleinhenz, an economist with UC Riverside's Forecasting Center and Beacon Economics. "But the fact is, it has taken a long time to get there when you compare this economic cycle with past economic cycles." 

California's labor market has added jobs at a faster pace than the nation every year since 2012, he said.

"We've seen gains in sectors of the economy that rely on consumer and household spending more than anywhere else," he said. "We're talking about retail activity, leisure and hospitality and food and beverage establishments," he said, adding that tech and health care have supplied a steady stream of well-paying jobs to the Southern California region.

While Los Angeles and Orange counties did not post net job gains in February, both counties already had lower unemployment rates than the state. In L.A. county, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 4.8 percent. In Orange County, it's 3.7 percent.

While the state has recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession, it has not recovered the same balance of high-, middle- and low-wage jobs, said Kleinhenz. The tech and health care sectors have brought jobs at the high end, while retail and hospitality have brought many jobs on the low end.

"It’s in the middle where we just haven’t seen this kind of job recovery in this economic cycle that matched up with the job losses that occurred about ten years ago during the Great Recession," he said.

Manufacturing and construction have been dependable middle-class employers but job growth has not been robust, Kleinhenz said, adding that manufacturing has steadily shrunk, despite the state's economic recovery.