Driven by a continuing rebound in the construction industry, employers in San Diego County added 23,200 new workers in 2013, with a hiring growth rate that slightly outpaced the national average.
Before adjusting for seasonal fluctuations, such as the surge of temporary retail workers at the end of the year to handle holiday shoppers, the local jobless rate dipped to 6.4 percent in December – its lowest point since September 2008.
After making seasonal adjustments, the jobless rate was probably more like 6.7 percent, nearly two full percentage points below last year's rate of 8.5 percent, said Lynn Reaser, economist with Point Loma Nazarene University.
That would put San Diego squarely in line with the national average for unemployment and much better than the statewide average of 8.3 percent.
The biggest gains came in construction, which added 5,700 new workers in 2013, including 1,900 foundation and exterior contractors; 1,300 in building construction; 1,200 finishing contractors; 1,000 building equipment contractors; 200 workers in heavy and civil engineering projects; and 100 specialty trade workers.
Other fast-growing sectors included:
• Bars and restaurants, 5,500 workers. Much of that growth came from fast-food eateries. Full-service venues added only 200 jobs.
• Health care, 4,200, including 3,200 in ambulatory health services.
• Retail, 3,300. That figure includes temporary workers hired to help sell goods during the year-end holiday shopping season. But it also signals growing optimism about consumers returning to stores.
• Private education, 1,700.
• Architecture and engineering, 300.
"While the year-over-year job gain in both California and the U.S. was 1.6 percent…, San Diego’s gain was 1.8 percent," Reaser said. "Further gains in construction, technology, leisure and hospitality, and international trade should bolster San Diego’s job market in 2013, while the region will see some relief from the ending of sequestration."
Despite the hiring surge, some industries continued to cut jobs.
Local manufacturers axed 1,600 workers last year, including 200 shipbuilders and 100 aerospace workers, partly due to the impact of the federal budget sequester. The federal government cut 1,000 of its own workers, including 600 civilian employees of the Defense Department. Local publishers cut 400 workers during a continuing wave of consolidation.
Nevertheless, Reaser predicted that by the end of the year, the county will create more than 20,000 more new jobs, pushing the jobless rate into a range of between 6 and 6.5 percent.