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New data show SD employment at all-time high

Employment in San Diego County reached an all-time high in January, breaking the record set on the eve of the Great Recession, according to a report released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

The report -- based on an annual revision incorporating the most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau -- surprised local economists, since the department's previous data had suggested that the county would not return to record highs until the end of this year or the beginning of 2015.

"Job growth has been much more vigorous in San Diego than formerly shown," said Kelly Cunningham, economist with the National University System Institute for Policy Research.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, employers in the county had 1,325,500 workers on their payrolls in January. That's 500 more than the previous high-point in July 2007 and 23,900 more than January 2013, thanks mostly to a recent growth spurt among construction companies, manufacturers, financial firms and home health care.

After adjusting for seasonal layoffs of retail workers in January during the post-holiday shopping lull, the county added 5,000 jobs in January -- its best performance since last April.

"On that basis, San Diego looks quite strong," said Lynn Reaser, chief economist for Point Loma Nazarene University. "February's jobs numbers will be important to find the underlying trend in San Diego, but at this point, we appear to be headed for further gains."

Because 41,000 more people are looking for work than five years ago, unemployment remains high. After adjusting for seasonal fluctuations, the local jobless rate was unchanged at 6.8 percent in December and January, compared to 4.6 percent in July 2007.

Economists say it might not get below 6 percent until early next year.
But Reaser notes that the jobless rate has vastly improved since the depths of the recession, when it touched 11 percent. In the past year alone, it has shed 1.5 percentage points.

Employment statistics are revised every February or March to reflect year-end data collected by the Census Bureau and other government agencies. In contrast, the monthly numbers that get reported in the press reflect preliminary data that is based on more limited samplings of employers rather than the more comprehensive data gathered by the government.

Cunningham said the gap between the government data and the employer samplings grows even wider during a time of economic transition, since the samplings are sometimes too small to reflect the broader changes in the economy. And the size of the employers has been trimmed down because of budget cuts.

The main reason the numbers were so surprising is that the government included home health care workers as payroll employees rather than the previous practice of listing them as self-employed, which left them off the payroll list.

To reflect that update, the EDD revised its employment data back to 1990, so the report still provides an apples-to-apples comparison between the current job market and employment levels before the recession. But because of the aging of baby boomers, the growth of home health care services has outpaced the rest of the market. Since the recession began, the social assistance category that includes home health care has added 12,000 jobs in San Diego, including 1,500 in the past year alone.

But the revisions in last year's numbers also included the addition of 2,800 manufacturing workers, 2,400 financial workers, 1,800 professional and business workers and 1,700 construction workers beyond what had previously been reported.

Statewide, the revised figures showed the addition of 155,000 new jobs, beyond the 400,000 added by the reclassification of the home health care workers.

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