Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Created: 05/18/2012 10:23:47 AM PDT

A reported drop in the Inland Empire’s unemployment rate to 11.7 percent would seem to signal an improving job market, but a closer look at the numbers shows the jobless rate dropped not because of a surge in hiring, but because the region’s work force shrunk.

San Bernardino and Riverside counties somehow lost some 24,000 people from their combined work force from March to April, according to government numbers released Friday.

That oddity – a 1.3 percent decline in the estimated size of the Inland Empire’s labor force – made it possible for the region’s unemployment rate to fall a full percentage point even though nonfarm employment decreased.

But whether the sudden drop in the reported labor force is a result of a statistical glitch or a mass exodus of discouraged workers from the Inland Empire’s labor force is unknown.

“I don’t think you can find anyone who realizes what’s going on,” said University of Redlands economist Johannes Moenius.

Los Angeles County numbers showed a pattern similar to the Inland Empire’s.

In the state’s most populous county, the unemployment rate fell from 11.8 percent to 11.6 percent in April.

Los Angeles County numbers also show, however, that the area lost 7,100 nonfarm jobs and the labor force declined by 16,000 people.

For the state as a whole, California’s official unemployment rate ticked down to 10.9percent in April. California had an 11percent unemployment rate in March.

California’s nonfarm employment, however, declined by 4,200 jobs and the state’s labor force was reduced by 4,900 jobs. April was the first time in nine months the state lost nonfarm jobs.

Looking at employment trends instead of the March-to-April shifts in job numbers, current employment levels are above 2011 levels, although job growth has slowed in the spring.

“April was not encouraging, but we remain certainly optimistic,” said Jordan Levine of the Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics.

Beacon analysts have tended to be bullish in recent months, saying long-term trends favor growth and predicting the U.S. economy can withstand any fallout if the feared collapse of the Greek economy happens.

California’s overall nonfarm employment level in April was 1.2percent greater than it was one year prior.

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