10:37 PM PDT on Friday, March 25, 2011

By TIFFANY RAY
The Press-Enterprise

Interactive: Charting the Jobless Rate

California employers added a whopping 96,500 new jobs to the economy in February but the Inland region, dragged down by continued losses in the construction sector, claimed only a small share of them.

The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area gained 2,500 new jobs in February, pushing the unemployment rate to 13.9 percent, according to the latest report from the California Employment Development Department. That’s down from 14.2 percent in January.

Jobless rates declined in both Inland Empire counties, although Riverside County’s February rate, 14.1 percent, remained slightly higher than the rate in San Bernardino County, which was 13.7 percent.

Statewide, unemployment dropped to 12.2 percent, an improvement from 12.4 percent in January but still well above the national rate, which was 8.9 percent in February.

The state and national rates are adjusted for seasonal fluctuations; local data are not seasonally adjusted.

Statewide, professional and business services jobs posted the largest gains, accounting for nearly 40,000 new jobs last month. Government was the only sector to shed jobs in February, losing 1,200 statewide. Huge job gains in February followed a slow January, when only 700 new jobs were created in the state.

Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi said the state may have underestimated job gains in January, contributing to an inflated number in February. Still, “clearly the state is on the path to create a solid number of jobs this year, and if you look at different industries, practically all of them are showing year-over-year job growth, with the exception of government,” he said. “And this is the type of job growth that economists like to see: broad-based job creation.”

Inland, job creation is not strong enough to make a serious dent in the unemployment rate anytime soon, Adibi said. In addition to government-job losses, the region is plagued with an ongoing drag in construction, which has shed 3,600 more jobs since February 2010.

But there are also encouraging signs in the report, he said. Increased activity at the ports is creating more jobs in transportation, warehousing and distribution for the Inland region. Health-industry jobs are up, and, although professional and business services jobs aren’t increasing at the same level they are in other parts of the state, they also are seeing gains.

Adibi said private-sector education jobs, one of the biggest growth areas in February, are likely the result of public-school troubles, which are pushing more families to opt for private education. State budget woes could become a bigger drag if governments are forced to lay off more workers, Adibi said. And continued gasoline price hikes could restrict consumer spending.

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