The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Employers add jobs in April, but competition among job seekers is stiff

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U.S. employers added 165,000 jobs last month, reducing the nation's unemployment rate to the lowest level in four years.

"The economy is doing what it's supposed to be doing," said Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, an economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp

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Ritter-Martinez said the report was good news. The nation's unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent and the leisure and hospitality, retail, as well as professional and business services sectors were hiring.

Hiring sizzles at Irvine-based burger chain

Irvine-based The Habit Burger Grill said it plans to open 20 new restaurants this year, which means there will be more than 600 new jobs. In April, the chain opened a new location in Utah.

"We've been on a real big growth swing recently," said Mike Mirkil, the company's vice president of marketing.

The Habit sells burgers for as low as $3. During the recession, sales continued to grow as customers that used to dine at more expensive sit-down restaurants decided they preferred a burger at The Habit instead, Mirkil said.

Jobs at its new restaurants start at $8.50 and include the usual duties: working the cash register, busing tables, and taking orders from customers. 

Sequester squelches Palmdale firm's hiring plans

But not all companies are hiring. Some Southern California businesses—among them, Aerowire Technical Services—say they aren't adding workers because of sequestration. The company handles wire harness fabrication and electrical component assembly for planes.

CEO Velma Searcy said had it not been for sequestration, she probably would have doubled the number of employees at her Palmdale-based company. She said would have hired technicians, who generally earn $15 to $20 an hour at Aerowire.

Instead, Searcy said she cut the hours of four of her 12 employees in half. 

"I'm not going to be hiring at all," Searcy said.

Competition for open jobs is tough

The Habit Burger Grill says each new restaurant has 30 to 35 open positions and sometimes more than 100 people apply.  

All Josh Lopez of Glendale said he wants is a chance. He was laid off from a Disney store four years ago. 

"It gets more difficult every single other day when you find yourself bored and not much else is happening," Lopez said. "Eventually some people cave in, others just pull through this and others (are) not so lucky. I'd rather not be the latter and keep moving forward rather than be driven crazy." 

Lopez said he's applied for jobs at plenty of restaurants—including Panda Express and Rubio's. 

But so far, he hasn't gotten any bites. 

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