State jobless rate lowest in three decades

The Associated Press
Saturday March 17, 2001

SACRAMENTO — California may be in the midst of an energy crisis and a high-tech slowdown, but those developments are not yet affecting the state’s employment rate, which is at a three-decade low. 

The February jobless rate was 4.5 percent, the state Employment Development Department announced Friday. That was the lowest since December 1969, when it was 4.4 percent, the department said. 

The January rate was 4.6 percent. However, when the department first announced that rate a month ago, it, too, was 4.5 percent. State experts routinely adjust the rate after the initial announcement as they get additional information from employers and unemployment claims offices, said department spokeswoman Suzanne Schroeder. 

The jobless rate in February 2000 was 4.9 percent. The national figure was 4.2 percent for last month. 

A record 16.5 million Californians had jobs last month, up by 32,000 from January and by 432,000 from a year ago.  

The biggest gains came in service and retail jobs, particularly in health, engineering and management services and in food and clothing shops, the department said. 

“In terms of job growth, it looks like our economy is still strong. We’re outperforming the rest of the nation,” said Sandy Harrison, spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis’ Department of Finance. 

His department’s March economic analysis said that employers identified fewer than 600 unemployment claims related to the current energy crisis during the first seven weeks of 2001. 

The effects of the energy problems and Silicon Valley layoffs won’t show up until later this year, said Tom Leiser, senior economist for the UCLA Anderson Forecast. 

He said layoffs that have been announced in high-tech industries in the past few months have come in areas with labor shortages, meaning people were able to quickly get new jobs. 

“We’re seeing the beginning of weakness in the labor market, but not yet in the unemployment figures.  

As long as people are hanging onto their jobs, they’re continuing to spend at a reasonable pace,” he said. 

A total of 771,000 people did not have jobs last month, down by 25,000 from January and by 65,000 from a year ago. The total was the lowest number of unemployed since January 1990. 

Of the jobless, 460,000 were laid off, 98,800 left their jobs voluntarily and the rest were new entrants or re-entrants into the job market. 

The job figures were not uniform around the state, with the San Francisco Bay area and other coastal counties generally retaining their very low rates and agriculture-dependent counties having the highest. 

San Mateo and Marin counties had the lowest rates at 1.6 percent, followed by Santa Clara County at 1.7 percent. 

The highest rate of 27.9 percent was in Colusa County, followed by Imperial County with 18 percent and Merced and Tulare counties at 17.9 percent.