Saturday, January 21, 2012

Riverside Press Enterprise: Inland job market, economy continues growth

Inland job market continues its comeback

Distribution and logistics were among the sectors to add jobs in December
Published: 20 January 2012 04:08 PM

December was an excellent month for the job market in Inland Southern California, and the typical seasonal opportunities in stores, restaurants and movie theaters had very little to do with it.

There were almost 23,000 San Bernardino and Riverside county residents on payrolls last month than were working a year earlier, a level the region has not seen in 2 ½ years, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday. It was the fifth consecutive month of job growth, and the pace of the expansion has accelerated in each of those months.

Unemployment was estimated at 12.2 percent in December, down from 12.5 percent the previous month and a sharp decrease from the peak of 15.1 percent in the summer of 2010.

“This is the best report we’ve gotten since the start of the recession,” Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi said. “The recovery seems to have some legs, and job creation is creeping along.”

There were an estimated 1,158,000 Inland residents on payrolls in December, up from 1,102,000 six months ago. Payroll employment had been as high as 1.3 million before the worst recession in modern history began to devastate the Inland economy more than four years ago.

Statewide the unemployment level fell to 11.1 percent from 11.3 percent in November. The figures for the state are adjusted to account for expected seasonal fluctuations, while data for counties are not adjusted.

Local unemployment numbers usually decline in December because of one of those seasonal shadings. Many job-hunters settle for two-month tenures at retail or service establishments that need extra staff for the holidays. There was some growth in those sectors this year, according to the report, but it was only marginal.

What the state’s report did show is growth in a much wider reach of job sectors when compared to December 2010, some of it substantial.

Jobs from the area’s distribution and logistic sector are up about 5 percent from a year ago. Smaller increases were noticed in the manufacturing and construction sectors.

Opportunities for office workers, mostly support staff, were up sharply last month. Other increases were seen in the health-care and government sectors.

One of the few sectors still losing jobs was financial services, which is tied to a lack of new construction. Redlands-based economist John Husing said it might be another two years before the construction industry becomes a serious economic factor in the Inland area again.

Also, Husing said some national financial institutions, notably Bank of America, are cutting back on local branch operations. But he was encouraged that other white-collar operations appear to be hiring again.
“Back in October the logistics and health-care sectors were carrying the area,” Husing said. “Now we’ve added pieces to the puzzle. This is an excellent report, and it’s what we need to continue.”

Support jobs in the professional and business services sector could mean relatively low-end clerical positions, but it also encompasses jobs for trained professionals such as paralegals and bookkeepers. Those jobs were up by a stunning 10.5 percent from December 2010, the state reported.

Palbinder Badesha, owner of the Corona office of employment service Express Employment Professionals, said her office has seen an increase in temp-to-hire orders, which means that her clients are coming to her for temporary workers who eventually would be hired permanently.

“In December we got orders for administrative workers from clients that had been slow for two years,” Badesha said. “It’s definitely turned around.”

The challenge now, Badesha said, is finding qualified workers. Some who have been idled for two years are ready to get back to action but are rusty.

Despite the faster job growth, one in eight Inland workers is still officially listed as unemployed by the state, and it will take a while to cut into that. Brad Kemp, an economist who watches the area for Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics, said that might not be a bad thing. Slow but steady job growth tends to be more sustainable.

“Volatility is both a privilege and a curse,” Kemp said. “When things are happening, people move quickly in the Inland Empire. The boom is wonderful, but the bust a little more painful.”

Kemp said there could still be problems that slow the recovery. “But right now, employers are making decisions to get back into hiring, and we’re seeing evidence of that.”

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