Business & Economy

California's unemployment rate hits lowest rate in nearly 5 years — 8.6% (PDF)

A "we are hiring" sign is displayed on a table during a job fair in San Francisco.
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that California’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent in May, the lowest level in nearly five years — since November 2008.

Roughly 1.6 million Californians remain unemployed, down 364,000 from May of last year.

One of those seeking work,  is Jackie Brown, 49, of Whittier.  

"I've been without income for over 2 years now," said Brown. 

Brown talked to KPCC over Skype to save cell phone minutes. She said at one point, she lived in her car. 

Her resume shows 15 years of experience in office management and human resources. But after applying for numerous jobs the past two years, Brown said she's only gotten five in-person interviews.

"I am told that my skills are great, I'm articulate , smart, have a good presentation and all that," Brown said. "Yet, no one will hire me."

Brown said she left her last job due to illness but didn't qualify for unemployment or disability benefits.

The BLS report shows California employers added 10,800  jobs in May. Eight industries gained jobs last month, led by the leisure and hospitality sector, government, and professional and business services. Job losses were recorded in the construction industry, whose payrolls shrank by 8,500 positions.

The Labor Department report said California has also seen the largest drop in unemployment among the states in the past 12 months. Its rate fell 2.1 percentage points from May 2012.

The leisure and hospitality, government, and professional and business services sectors all added jobs in California.  Economist Robert Kleinhenz, with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, said the report is encouraging. 

"We’re [California] adding jobs across a broad spectrum of industries and across a broad spectrum of occupations," said Kleinhenz.  "You’ve got a mixed bag in terms of the education and skill requirements for the jobs in these industries." 

Economist William Yu, with the UCLA Anderson Forecast, said Los Angeles County has increased 3,600 payroll jobs on average per month over the past year. 

"But L.A. employment is still 5 percent below its pre-recession level," said Yu.

"The national jobless rate was essentially unchanged from April at 7.6 percent but was 0.6 percentage point lower than in May 2012," according to the BLS report.

Overall, unemployment rates fell in half of U.S. states last month, led by drops in California, West Virginia, New York and Hawaii.

The Labor Department said unemployment rates rose in 17 states and were unchanged in eight.

Employers added jobs in 33 states last month. The biggest gains were in Ohio, Texas and Michigan.

New York and Hawaii also had significant declines. New York's unemployment rate dropped to 7.6 percent from 7.8 percent, while Hawaii's fell to 4.7 percent from 4.9 percent.

North Dakota had the nation's lowest unemployment rate at 3.2 percent.

Nevada had the highest at 9.5 percent. It was followed by Illinois and Mississippi, each at 9.1 percent.

Nationally, the economy added 175,000 jobs in May, nearly matching the average monthly gain for the past year. The unemployment rate ticked up to 7.6 percent from 7.5 percent, but for a good reason: More Americans were confident they could find work and began searching for a job.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday offered a brighter outlook for the job market and economy. Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Fed is likely to slow its bond-buying program later this year and end it next year if the economy continues to strengthen.

Fed officials now expect the unemployment rate to fall as low 7.2 percent this year and between 6.5 percent and 6.8 percent by the end of 2014.

Regional and State Employment and Unemployment

This story has been updated.