Orange County’s job market grew modestly in September and October, as businesses added 21,000 payroll positions, led by a jump in construction activity.
The county’s jobless rate was 5.8 percent in October, down from 7.2 percent a year earlier, according to California’s Employment Development Department.
Part of the dip, however, was due to a shrinking of the labor force, as some workers stopped job hunting.
“The economy is not generating the kind of momentum and job growth it needs to,” said Cal State Fullerton economist Anil Puri. “It is slowly improving, but not fast enough to accommodate all the people looking for jobs.”
Nonetheless, Orange County remained a bright spot in California, where October unemployment was 8.7 percent. Nationally, the jobless rate was 7.3 percent.
“Orange County is ahead of other parts of California, but full recovery is still at least a year away,” said Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
“That’s more than five years after the technical end of the national recession, more than twice as long as the typical recovery trajectory,” he added.
The federal government’s partial shutdown in October delayed the release of the September job numbers. So the data published Friday included September (5.8 percent unemployment rate) and October statistics. The county’s jobless rate in August was 6.2 percent.
Overall, the county’s payroll, measured by a survey of businesses, grew an average of 2.1 percent in 2013, slower than the 2012 rate of 2.3 percent.
“Orange County has to recover about 100,000 jobs to return to its pre-recession peak employment,” Kleinhenz said.
Much of the recent growth has occurred in construction, which added 9,700 jobs from October 2012 to October 2013, a boost of 13 percent.
Financial firms added 4,000 jobs, at a year-over-year rate of 3.6 percent. The leisure and hospitality sector grew by 6,100 jobs, or 3.3 percent.
On the down side, government was the biggest loser, shedding 4,800 jobs for a year-over-year drop of 3.2 percent. The survey did not count as unemployed those federal workers who were furloughed during the partial government shutdown. And economists said it was too early to measure the effect of the 16-day shutdown.
Another laggard is the retail sector, suffering from a lack of consumer confidence. In Orange County, retail jobs dropped by 1,000 year-over-year, or 0.7 percent.
At a Newport Beach hotel this week, a representative of United Career Fairs, which matches employers and applicants, asked a group of 60 job seekers whether they were frustrated by the difficulty of meeting recruiters when the job market has mostly moved online and resumes are sorted by automatic bots. Virtually everyone in the room raised their hand, murmuring assent.
“I have a college degree,” said Christina Kinne, 25, who graduated from Cal State Long Beach in 2012 after majoring in political science. “But employers don’t seem to care. They want experience.”
Kinne, who lives in Buena Park, has been unemployed since July, when the restaurant where she worked as a manager shut down. “I’ve applied to about 50 places,” she said. “I thought I’d have something by now.”
Seven employers sent representatives to the fair, mostly for commission-based sales jobs. One was Time Warner Cable, which offers a $20,000 salary and benefits, plus commissions for door-to-door sales representatives. The company has 15 openings in Orange County.
“It’s not the most glamorous position,” recruiter Paula Barton acknowledged. “People don’t answer the door. You have about 15 seconds to make a pitch as they look through their peepholes. You often walk five to seven miles a day.”
But she said first-year representatives can make $50,000 a year, and more experienced and talented workers can make twice as much or more. “I’ve seen the Mercedes they’re driving,” she said.
Jimena Santibanez, 32, has a job, but was at the fair handing out resumes because her employer, a Long Beach beef importer, has cut its staff from 35 to five in recent months. She has been applying for jobs since June, and been helping her fiancé, an MBA graduate who was laid off from his job and is trying to start a catering company.
At the job fair, Santibanez, who is fluent in Spanish and Japanese, approached the recruiter for Intermex, a money-transfer firm. “He told me he was looking for someone with more sales experience,” she said with a sigh. “At least he was honest.”
Dave Schwartz, a recruiter for Modern Woodmen, a financial firm, told applicants not to get discouraged. “In July, I sat in this very room in your position