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  • Jason Tuvia

Southern California regions see job losses, uptick in unemployment

Unemployment rates rose in Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire in January and both regions posted significant job losses, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday.

L.A. County's unemployment rate hit 10.4 percent in January. That was up from 10.3 percent the previous month but well below the year-ago rate of 11.6 percent.

Total nonfarm employment fell by 81,000 jobs in January, although the region posted a 2 percent year-over-year gain of 73,800 jobs.

The Inland Empire saw a bigger rise in unemployment. Its jobless rate jumped to 11.5 percent in January compared with 11 percent the previous month. But that was still significantly lower than 12.7 a year earlier.

The two-county region lost 19,400 nonfarm jobs in January but saw a year-over-year gain of 24,200 jobs - the biggest annual increase since 2006.

California added 1,700 nonfarm payroll jobs in January, bringing the state's total gain to 681,400 jobs added since the recovery began in February 2010, the EDD said.

Stephen Levy, director and senior economist at the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, cautions against giving too much weight to the January report because of big upward revisions made in job growth between December 2012 and January 2013.

And job growth at the state and regional level actually outpaced the nation last year, Levy notes. "The story of California's demise is just wrong," Levy said. "The long-term fundamentals of growth for the state and the region remain strong."

Levy noted that the EDD's 12-month California job growth estimate for December was revised up in January to 286,100 from 129,100. Los Angeles County's was revised up to 73,800 from 22,000 and the Inland Empire's was moved up to 24,200 from 15,200.

And the estimate that the state lost 17,500 jobs between November and December was revised to reflect a gain of 8,200 jobs.

"I encourage people not to make too much out of the current month because the (job) numbers have been revised up sharply for prior months," Levy said.

Los Angeles County's biggest declines for January were in trade, transporation and utilities, which lost 25,900 jobs - mostly in the retail trade sector.

The information sector suffered the second biggest decline with 15,400 jobs lost, and 14,000 of those jobs were in motion picture and sound recording.

Other significant job losses occurred in accommodation and food services (down 6,300), leisure and hospitality (down 9,900), educational and health services (down 7,000) and government (down 6,300).

The county's construction sector lost 800 jobs.

The Inland Empire's biggest employment decline for January also came in trade, transportation and utilities with 10,900 jobs lost.

Other notable losses occurred in educational and health services (down 3,200), construction (down 2,400), government (down 1,900) and professional and business services (down 1,500).

Those numbers aren't exactly welcome, but there are success stories to be told.

OpenX, a Pasadena-based provider of digital and mobile advertising technology, is in the midst of hiring 30 people, according to Human Resources Director Mona Dhillon. OpenX was established in April 2008 and momentum has been building ever since.

"We have gone from zero employees to 260 and we're really ramping up," Dhillon said. "We had to move out of our other office because we were literally bursting at the seams."

On the flipside, Minneapolis-based SuperValu Inc. announced Thursday that it sold its Albertons supermarkets and four other grocery chains to AB Acquisition LLC, an investment group affiliated with Cerberus Capital Management L.P. Albertsons said Friday that it plans to keep all 192 of its Southern California stores and two regional distribution centers open.

But Phil Lempert, a food industry analyst based in Southern California, cautioned that nothing is written in stone.

He figures Southern California's grocery industry will see lots of changes over the next 12 months.

In September, SuperValu announced that it was closing 60 underperforming Albertsons stores, including 18 in Southern California. Lempert also noted that British food giant Tesco is considering selling off its El Segundo-based Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chain.

"I think we'll see a lot of consolidation at the chain level," he said.

Unemployment rates have remained alarmingly high in some Southland cities, including South El Monte, which posted a jobless rate of 13.9 percent for January, and Baldwin Park, which stood at 13.6 percent.

Further east, even higher unemployment rates could be found in such San Bernardino communities as Adelanto (17.8 percent), Rialto (14.8 perent) and San Bernardino (15.5 percent).

Terry O'Neill, President and CEO of The O'Neill Co. an employee benefits and financial consulting firm in Laguna Hills, said California is inevitably affected by the dysfuntion that occurs as state and federal governments attempt to bring their budgets under control.

"Congress is playing a game of chicken to see who blinks first," he said. "Consumers are at the end of their deleveraging process, but state and fedearl governments ... are obviously not."

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