SACRAMENTO (AP) — In one of the strongest signals of a rebounding economy yet, California’s unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest point in six years.
California’s jobless rate was 7.8 percent in April, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday. It has steadily fallen since hitting a 12.4 percent peak in October 2010.
The state posted a net gain of 56,100 jobs from March to April, most notably among health care and education industries, but also in construction, financial services, hospitality and mining.
“It’s another in a series of reports that shows that the California recovery is continuing,” said Stephen Levy, director of Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto. In all, California has added more than 1.3 million jobs since officials say the national recession ended in February 2010.
However, California’s economy still faces challenges. The jobless rate remains above the national 6.3 percent average. Nearly 1.5 million Californians are still out of work.
And those who found jobs may not have found economic security, said Michael Bernick, a former director of the Employment Development Department and a fellow at the Milken Institute economic think tank.
Many employees work part time, on contract or on a specific project and then move on, he said. That means they lack the stability and long-term benefits of traditional full-time employment.
“It’s a different type of employment, but it’s still counted if you’re hired 20 hours a week, if you’re hired as a project employee,” he said.
Steve Davis, a single 32-year-old web developer in Fremont, is one of those workers after leaving a full-time job a year ago. His move was voluntary, even as friends with families seek permanent jobs and others take whatever they can land.
Davis works late hours when he’s most productive, hits the gym in the middle of the day and recently took a five day, 2,300-mile scenic road trip to Washington state.
After buying a high-deductible plan through Covered California, he is among millions of Americans no longer tethered to an employer for health insurance because of federal health reforms. But he has also been between gigs for five weeks, reflecting the reality of an inconsistent paycheck.
“When times are good, it’s great; you are making a lot of money,” said Davis, drawing from savings as he seeks work. “And when it’s not, you have to put that money aside so you can handle these times.”
The employment picture varies throughout California. The counties with the highest unemployment rates, led by Imperial at 21.6 percent, are inland counties that rely on agriculture. Those with the lowest rates are along the coast, with a specific concentration in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Marin County, north of San Francisco, has the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 3.9 percent.
Economic issues and jobs have emerged as a key issue in California’s gubernatorial race.
Leading Republican candidates blast Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democratically controlled Legislature for imposing fees and regulations that drive major employers out of state. Recent announcements of businesses leaving California, including Toyota’s U.S. headquarters in Torrance and San Diego defense contractor Pratt & Whitney AeroPower, have fueled their arguments.
Republican candidate Neel Kashkari focused on less positive aspects of the latest jobs report, including a manufacturing sector that has lost jobs over the past year.
“The fact that some regions of our state are still facing sky-high unemployment and our overall job situation continues to trail the rest of the nation underscores the fact that, under Gov. Brown’s failed leadership, California’s hostile business climate is making it hard for companies to create jobs here at home,” Kashkari spokeswoman Jessica Ng said in an email.
Levy, the economic observer, says the latest job report provides a counterweight to those who say California has a bad climate for business.
“That narrative misjudges what is going on in California,” he said, pointing to high venture capital investment, foreign trade and international tourism as positive signs.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s office had no comment on the job’s report. Kashkari’s GOP rival in the June primary, Tim Donnelly, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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