Jobless rate stabilizes in December statewide

By Simon Avery The Associated Press
Saturday January 12, 2002

LOS ANGELES — California’s jobless rate showed a slight improvement in December from a month earlier, as the number of unemployed people declined by 21,000, officials said Friday. 

Driven by slim gains in government, retail and construction jobs, the unemployment rate dipped to 6 percent, down from a revised 6.1 percent in November, the California Employment Development Department reported. 

A year ago, the state jobless rate was 4.7 percent. 

“The big job losses we’ve been seeing since September 11 appear to have leveled off,” said Michael Bernick, EDD director. “On the other hand, the big gains (like) 1999 and 2000, those may be months off.” 

December’s numbers are an encouraging sign after the unemployment rate jumped to 6.1 percent in November from 5.8 percent in October. 

Still, more than 1 million Californians remain out of work. For many, the latest figures provide little hope. 

“Things can’t get any worse, but I’m afraid they will,” said James Moore, a 20-year-old truck driver in Los Angeles who lost his job in December. 

Moore was checking job postings at an EDD office Friday but said he had found few leads despite looking every day. 

Ja’Nelva Seaberry, 21, was applying for unemployment benefits after getting laid off from a train-loading facility last month. 

“I doubt things will get better soon,” she said. 

The latest job statistics include seasonally adjusted gains of 4,200 jobs in government, 2,600 new jobs in construction and 1,800 new retail positions. 

Manufacturing, one of the key areas economists are watching for signs of a recovery, lost 3,600 jobs.  

The sector, which includes high-tech electronic equipment, has lost 92,700 jobs since December 2000. 

Regionally, the diversified economy of Southern California continued to hold its own during the downturn. 

In Orange County, the jobless rate fell to 3.2 percent from 3.4 percent in November. Los Angeles County also saw a small dip, to 5.7 percent in December from 5.9 percent the previous month. 

Even Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the economic downturn, showed positive signs, although its unemployment numbers remained relatively high. 

More than 61,000 people in Santa Clara County, or 6.1 percent of the local work force, were looking for work in December. The jobless rate there in November hit 6.6 percent. 

National figures released earlier this month showed the entire country lost 124,000 jobs in December, with the national jobless rate hitting a six-year high of 5.8 percent. 

Many economists expect the state and national jobless rates will increase even more throughout the year, even if the recession ends in the second quarter as predicted. One reason is that companies generally hire cautiously coming out of a downturn. 

Another is that the economic effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are expected to linger, especially in travel-related industries. 

A report released Friday by the Milken Institute, an economic think-tank in Santa Monica, predicted the attacks will cost the nation 1.6 million jobs this year.