Calif. unemployment rate at 11.9 pct

August 21, 2009 7:32:13 PM PDT
California's unemployment rate is now the fourth highest in the nation, climbing on Friday to the highest level in modern record-keeping. The state's jobless figure hit nearly 12 percent, with more than 812,000 people collecting unemployment benefits.The state's jump in unemployment was unexpected, considering the national rate went down, but it reflects a lingering weakness in a sector that was once a shining star in California's economy.

Economists pin California's slow recovery to the housing industry. The Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy points out construction jobs in this state declined 32 percent in the last three years -- nationally, the decline was 20 percent. So naturally, the Golden State's unemployment is among the highest in the country.

"There's really nothing out there. Nothing out there for a good amount of money," said Stan Da Veiga, an unemployed construction worker.

New numbers show unemployment climbed to 11.9 percent, a post World War II high. The month before, it was 11.6 percent. A year ago, the jobless rate stood at 7.3 percent.

While the numbers may sound discouraging, there were some positive signs. Job losses slowed down to 36,000 last month.

"It is the smallest loss we've seen in a year, back to August of 2008. So, that's good news. Again, we're starting to maybe see that bottom of the recession," said Loree Levy, from the California Employment Development Department.

But a bottom doesn't necessarily translate into jobs right away.

"Unemployment tends to continue rising even after the economic growth resumes, as employers wait to see if the recovery is for real," said UC Davis economist Professor Phil Martin, Ph.D.

Professor Martin also points out many local governments have yet to spend the bulk of their federal stimulus money designed to create jobs.

"Most people are hoping or expecting that the peak happens in September or October, and then starts to come down," said Martin.

To look at where the state may be headed next, experts like Professor Martin, look at Los Angeles County where there's a good mix of sectors. Its current jobless rate is 12.5 percent, meaning California as a whole is likely to break that 12 percent mark.

In the Bay Area, Santa Clara County has the highest unemployment at 11.7 percent. Alameda and Solano counties are just behind at 11.5 percent. The lowest unemployment rate is in Marin County, at just over eight percent.

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