SACRAMENTO — In one of the strongest signals of a rebounding economy yet, California’s unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest point in nearly 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.
California’s economy still faces challenges, however. 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.
Bruce Girton, a 54-year-old chemist who moved to Burlingame in March to consult for a biotechnology company, is one of those workers. He has taken five positions since he was laid off in 2010, watching as positions in the pharmaceutical industry became limited to specific projects.
“You never know from one week to the next whether you will still have a job,” said Girton, who is willing to relocate for a permanent job. “I’m camped out in someone’s attic basically because of an inability to commit to a long-term job for long-term housing.”
Steve Davis, a single 32-year-old web developer in Fremont, voluntarily became a contract worker.
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. He kept six months of savings for times like now when he’s between gigs.
“It’s great being able to dictate when I’m available rather than asking for permission,” said Davis, who works late hours when he’s most productive and recently took a five-day road trip to Washington state.
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 they say 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.
The governor’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.
Counties with highest, lowest unemployment rates
California counties with the highest unemployment rates in April (13 percent or higher):
Imperial, 21.6 percent.
Colusa, 19.8 percent.
Sutter, 15.4 percent.
Merced, 14.3 percent.
Tulare, 13.4 percent.
Kings and Yuba, 13.1 percent.
California counties with the lowest unemployment rates (below 6 percent):
Marin, 3.9 percent.
San Mateo, 4.2 percent.
San Francisco, 4.4 percent.
Napa, 5 percent.
Orange, 5 percent.
San Luis Obispo, 5.2 percent.
Santa Clara, 5.3 percent.
Sonoma, 5.3 percent.
Santa Barbara, 5.4 percent.
Alameda, 5.7 percent.