The California economy surged forward in April as employers added 46,000 net jobs and unemployment held steady at 4.3 per cent, near a record low, according to data released on Friday by the state’s Employment Development Department.
Last month’s gains marked an improvement over March, when payrolls in the state grew by an upwardly revised 28,500 jobs. April’s increase was the largest in two years — particularly impressive given concerns that high housing costs, tariffs and worker shortages would derail the second-longest economic expansion since the Second World War.
“There is so much about the current economy that isn’t supposed to happen,” said Michael Bernick, a former Employment Development Department director and current research fellow with the Milken Institute.
Wage growth in California has also picked up. Average hourly earnings grew by 5.2 per cent in April, and growth has topped 5 per cent every month of 2019.
Trade tensions with China — a vital market and source of products and investment for the state — ratcheted up this month, and economists said that could still throw the economy off course. But the state, with its abundance of industries, has been benefiting from overall growth in the national economy. In April, employers nationwide added a better-than-expected 263,000 jobs.
In California, growth last month was broad-based: Nine of the state’s 11 industry sectors saw payrolls grow compared with March. The largest increases came in the educational and health services sector, where employers boosted payrolls by 17,300, and the leisure and hospitality sector, which gained 12,100 jobs.
Gains were also reported in the professional and business services sector, the government sector and the construction sector, as well as several others.
Only two sectors shed jobs last month. The information sector — which includes tech companies and Hollywood studios — lost 600 jobs, and the mining and logging sector lost 200.
Overall, since April 2018 the state has gained 271,600 jobs.
Despite those rosy numbers, the US-China trade war has had an impact already, said Sung Won Sohn, a Loyola Marymount University economist. One example, he said, is in California’s retail and wholesale trade industries, where payrolls have shrunk by 10,800 jobs compared with a year earlier.
On Friday, President Trump agreed to lift tariffs on steel and aluminium from Canada and Mexico. But the dispute with China has grown more acrimonious.
Last week, Trump hiked tariffs on Chinese goods, and a round of trade talks between the world’s two largest economies ended without an agreement. On Monday, China responded with additional counter-tariffs that are set to take effect next month.
The trade dispute “could have major effects on the exports of technology firms and farmers, tourism, supply chains, retailers, the stock market and capital investment,” Lynn Reaser, chief economist of the Fermanian Business and Economic Institute at Point Loma Nazarene University, said in an email.
Job growth extended to all six Southern California counties in April. In Los Angeles County, employers added 18,300 jobs; Orange County, 4,700; Riverside and San Bernardino counties, a combined 6,700; Ventura County; 2,300; and San Diego County, 5,000.
“Confidence may have deteriorated,” Reaser said. “But in April ... employers were still very optimistic.”