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SD hiring picks up pace; fastest since November

Employment in San Diego County grew by an annual rate of 2.1 percent in February — the fastest rate of hiring since last fall — spurred by continued hiring by hospitals, private schools, hotels, research laboratories and architecture firms.

Over the past year, local companies added 27,700 jobs between February 2013 and 2014, including 9,500 over the past month, although that number would be more like 2,900 after adjusting for seasonal fluctuations, said Alan Gin, economist at the University of San Diego.

"Adding close to 28,000 jobs over the past year is pretty solid growth, although it would be better if we were adding more than 30,000," Gin said.

The pace was the fastest since November, when the job growth stumbled after the government shutdown in October.

But February's growth was not enough to budge the jobless rate, which remained unchanged from January at 7 percent, mirroring the national average.

"As the economy improves, discouraged workers start coming off the sidelines and looking for work, which can keep the unemployment rate stubbornly high," Gin said. "I don't think we'll be below 6 percent by the end of the year."

From January to February, some of the fastest job growth came in health care — from clinics to retirement homes — which added 1,800 workers; private education, 600; scientific research and development services, 300; and architecture and engineering, 200.

The main areas that lost ground last month were retail, which lost 1,300 jobs partly due to seasonal fluctuations; construction, 1,100; and finance, 200. Despite the construction losses, Gin said it's hard to judge employment figures based on month-to-month changes, adding that the industry still has 4,300 more jobs than last year.

"I've even heard some companies saying that they're having a hard time finding workers," he said.

Workers in San Diego remain a bit skeptical about how long the hiring pace will continue.

A Gallup poll released Friday shows that 32 percent of employees surveyed in San Diego said their companies are in growth mode, but 20 percent said their employer is laying off workers.

The 12 percent gap between those two numbers is the lowest on the poll, which surveyed the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas, suggesting that San Diego's workers are the most pessimistic.

In contrast, Houston, which typically has strong job growth when oil prices are rising, had the most optimistic workers, with 44 percent predicting their companies would continue to grow, compared to 12 percent who said they were scaling back, leaving a 32 percent gap between the two.

The Gallup organization said that "there is room for cheer" for people living in all 50 metro areas, including San Diego, because every region indicated that hiring was sharply outpacing job losses.

"Given the considerable size of these 50 metro areas, this uniform net hiring is also a good thing for the U.S. economy overall," said Gallup analyst Andrew Dugan.

In the meantime, San Diego employers seem to be a bit more optimistic than their workers, according to a monthly business outlook that the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce released Thursday, based on polling by Competitive Edge Research.

Nearly 35 percent of respondents to the poll — including nearly half of the respondents with more than 50 workers — said they plan to be adding staff over the next three months, compared to less than 4 percent who plan to cut workers.

In addition, 61 percent said they think revenues will improve over the next three months, compared to less than 5 percent who foresaw a decline. Except for business consulting and staffing firms, nearly all other business sectors show steady confidence or an increase in optimism for the next quarter, said Alan Lane, president and CEO of Silvergate Bank, which sponsors the report.

“This latest report shows a promising and significant improvement in businesses’ outlook as it relates to their industry conditions,” Lane said.

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