Election Section

California unemployment tops 1 million mark

By Simon Avery, The Associated Press
Saturday December 15, 2001

LOS ANGELES — The number of Californians out of work topped 1 million for the first time in nearly five years in November, as increasing job cuts in the state comprised a disproportionately large amount of the national total, officials said Friday. 

California’s net job loss in November totaled 53,000 non-farm positions. The amount represents 16 percent of the 331,000 non-farm payroll jobs lost across the country, although the state’s work force comprises only 11 percent of the national total. 

California’s unemployment rate climbed to 6 percent — a level not seen since Sept. 1998 — up from 5.8 percent in October, according to figures released by the Employment Development Department. 

“Cumulatively, the results aren’t as bad as the full national picture, but we contributed our share for the first time in a while,” said Howard Roth, chief economist at the California Department of Finance. 

The biggest job losses in California occurred in the manufacturing of electronic and industrial equipment. Combined job cuts in manufacturing, construction, transportation, wholesale trade, retail trade and services totaled 57,800. 

“This was quite a broad-based decline in jobs,” Roth said. 

The seasonal spurt in part-time retail jobs did not match expectations for the holiday buying season, causing a seasonally adjusted loss of 11,300 positions in that sector. 

“It looks like retailers think this is not going to be a very good shopping season,” Roth said. 

November’s job losses were partially offset by a gain of 4,400 jobs in three sectors: government, mining, and finance and real estate. 

On a seasonally adjusted basis, government added 3,200 positions. Though state government has imposed a hiring freeze, teachers continued to be hired as part of a long-term commitment to improve education. 

The number of unemployed people in California reached 1,047,000 in November. The last time the state recorded more than 1 million unemployed was in January 1997. 

The UCLA Anderson Forecast, a widely watched look-ahead on the economy released earlier this month, predicts the state unemployment rate will continue rising gradually and peak at 6.4 percent in early 2003. 

“A lot of people coming to the job market in January will have to readjust their salary expectations,” said Tom Thrower, general manager of Management Recruiters International in Oakland. 

Scott Tyler Shafer, 26, said he’s prepared to adjust his long-term career plans if necessary. He was laid off Nov. 30 from his writer job at Red Herring magazine in San Francisco. The publication covers the sagging tech industry. 

“I’m not worrying yet,” Shafer said. “I’m trying not to take a bad job that I’ll be miserable in.” 

Shafer would like to stay in journalism. But the bleak economic outlook has him weighing a wide range of occupations. 

“I’m considering anything,” he said. 

Despite the latest jump in unemployment, some business segments are still hiring. The biotech and medical equipment industries are contributing to the strength of the local economies in Orange County and San Diego, Roth said. 

The pace of job creation within the biotech and pharmaceutical industries in California has not shown any signs of slowing down, according to a spokesman for Monster.com, the online career site. About 5 percent of all the California-based jobs listed on Monster.com are in those two areas, he said. 

The defense industry, meanwhile, anticipates benefits from new federal contracts. Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp., a principal subcontractor to Lockheed Martin Corp. on the Joint Strike Fighter program, plans to hire about 700 people in 2002 to work on the project in El Segundo. 

The company said it could add another 50 to 100 jobs if the government accelerates plans on an unmanned aircraft known as Global Hawk. Most of the jobs will be in engineering and manufacturing. 

Northrop and other defense contractors are picking up some of the displaced workers from the beleaguered information technology sector for their skills in such areas as communication systems and imagery software.