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Job growth stronger than estimated

San Diego County’s job growth has been stronger than previously reported, with employment increasing across the board, according to the latest data from the state Employment Development Department.

Employment rose by a relatively strong 2.1 percent, with 28,500 new jobs added between January 2012 and January 2013 on a seasonally adjusted basis, led by increases in health care, education and dining, as well as such formerly beleaguered industries as construction, banking and real estate. In contrast, jobs only rose 1.5 percent for the nation as a whole.

“One particularly positive sign locally is in wholesale trade, which added 1,300 jobs last year,” said Kelly Cunningham, economist with National University’s Institute for Policy Research. “That signifies that companies are ramping up production now in anticipation of greater sales.”

The unemployment rate fell from 9.5 percent to 8.6 percent during the 12-month period, or from 9.4 percent to 8.4 percent after adjusting for seasonal changes, said Lynn Reaser, chief economist with Point Loma Nazarene University.

But the county still has a way to go to get close to the national average of 7.9 percent. And the rate of job growth has slowed down, with slight declines in both December and January following only a modest rise in November — a sharp contrast to the strong gains that were posted during the first half of the year.

Reaser said one reason for the slowdown may be the continuing uncertainty over the federal budget, with military contractors and research labs postponing their hiring plans until they can determine how the budget battles will affect their funding.

“February’s hiring data, which will be released next week, should give us an even better idea of how the sequester may be slowing hiring,” she said. “Because of our high concentration of military and federally funded research laboratories, we’ll be harder hit than most of the rest of the country.”

The latest data was a sharp contrast from the last jobs report, which showed San Diego adding only 1,900 jobs during 2012. Those figures were calculated using estimates from a sample group of employers. Each year, employment statistics throughout the country are restated after more reliable data comes from company payrolls.

“Sometimes the preliminary numbers over-rely on big employers, meaning they miss a lot of the smaller companies where a large number of jobs are being created,” Cunningham said.

Here’s how some of San Diego’s leading industries fared:

Restaurants: up 4,000 jobs, or 3.9 percent. The rising economy apparently means that more people are eating out, but fast-food venues and bars are growing much faster than sit-down restaurants. Employment at full-service restaurants rose by only 1.5 percent, adding 800 jobs.

Health care: up 3,800 jobs, or 3 percent. An aging population has kept health care growing steadily throughout the past decade. Last year’s growth included 3,300 jobs at clinics and 400 at nursing care facilities.

Construction: up 3,600 jobs, or 3 percent. The strongest growth was among construction equipment contractors, which added 1,300 jobs, followed by building finishing contractors and heavy and civil engineering construction, which added 400 each..

Financial industry, including real estate: up 1,400 jobs, or 3.9 percent. Real estate, banking and mortgage each added 500 jobs last year, reflects growing optimism about the housing market. As home sales rose, however, real estate leasing and rental operations lost 100 jobs.

Scientific research: up 1,200 jobs, or 4.3 percent. A slow revival in venture capital funding helped fuel growth in the region’s high-tech and biotech companies. But the sequester may slow down growth by cutting federal research funds.

Manufacturing: Zero jobs added. That’s an improvement from previous data, which suggested that 2,000 jobs had been lost. The industry was bolstered by gains in shipbuilding and aerospace, but shipbuilders are currently forecast to cut about 5,000 jobs because of the budget sequester and the wind-down of the war in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the sequester may lead some firms to add jobs locally as they consolidate from other areas, as Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) recently did.

Retail: Down 1,000 jobs or 0.7 percent. Retail was the only major sector to lose jobs, shedding 1,000 jobs during the year, mostly driven by cutbacks at department stores and sports, music and book stores. Reaser suggests that one reason for the drop off is that online sales are continue to erode business at bricks-and-mortar stores. But she was heartened by a 500-worker increase among auto dealers, which have been making a comeback after a long-running slump.

Source: California Employment Development Department | Compiled by Jenny Ross

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Point Loma Nazarene University, Fermanian Business Center

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