Unemployment rate at lowest level since fall 2008

California’s unemployment rate dipped to the lowest level since October 2008, as several industries helped create jobs in June.

The state’s jobless rate dropped to 8.5% in June, compared to 8.6% in May and 10.6% in June 2012, according to the state Employment Development Department. It’s the fifth-consecutive month drop of the unemployment rate.

California added 30,200 jobs last month compared to May 2012 – and 253,900 jobs during the past year, according to the closely watched report.

Seven categories added jobs during the past year, with leisure and hospitality leading the way with 70,800 new positions. Construction had the largest percentage increase at 5.5%, gaining 32,200 jobs.

A career center at a Macy's department store in downtown Sacramento.
A career center at a Macy’s department store in downtown Sacramento.

Construction had 615,500 employees last month, the eighth-consecutive month above 600,000. But the current construction job number pales compared to the peak of 945,100 in February 2006.

Bay Area counties fared the best with the monthly report, with Marin County’s 5.1% jobless rate the lowest in the state. San Mateo, San Francisco and Napa counties finished in second- through fourth-place, each with jobless rates below 6%.

Imperial County has the highest jobless rate at 23.6%.


Federal extension benefits to end for 100,000 Californians on Aug. 11

California’s hard-hit jobless received another dose of bad news –they will lose their federal extension unemployment benefits — some in the next few weeks and all by the end of the year.

A declining jobless rate and improving economy has prompted the move, according to the state Employment Development Department.

About 100,000 people will be affected by the decision in the next few weeks. At least 275,000 more will lose assistance by the end of the year.

Cash-strapped California, which enacted budget cuts and furloughs in recent years, is faring much better during the first half of the fiscal year.
Cash-strapped California, which enacted budget cuts and furloughs in recent years, is faring much better during the first half of the fiscal year.

More than 750,000 people are collecting jobless benefits in California, with more than half receiving funds from the federal extension program.

California’s three-month jobless rate average has dropped below 9%, the minimum level required for the final 10 weeks of the Tier 4 federal extension, according to federal guidelines.

Anyone who files for the Tier 4 extension on or after Aug. 11 is not eligible for the benefits. Those who apply and are eligible for Tier 4 benefits before Aug. 11 will receive funds until Dec. 28.

Tier 4 benefits assist jobless residents who exhausted their 26-week, state-provided benefits and the first three tiers of the federal extension.

“The EDD knows just how vitally important unemployment benefits can be to out-of-work Californians and their families,” says EDD Chief Deputy Director Sharon Hilliard. “We want to make sure that our customers have as warning as possible about reduced benefits so they can plan their personal finances accordingly.”

All federal extension benefits will end Dec. 29. The federal effort provided unemployment assistance for up to 99 weeks.


Golden State ends fiscal year $2 billion in the black

A better economy coupled and voter-approved tax initiatives greatly increased the state’s revenue last month – and during the just-completed fiscal year.

California collected $13.1 million in June, a head-turning $1.2 billion more than the governor’s projections, according to the State Controllers Office on July 10. And fiscal-year revenue finished at $100.1 billion – a nifty $2 billion more than projected.

It’s an about-face and dramatic turnaround after several years of shortfalls.

“Rising employment, economic expansion and voter-approved tax increases have generated revenues outperforming even the rosiest projections,” says State Controller John Chiang. “However, California’s history of revenue cycles should be a cautionary tale that informs our spending decisions and incentivizes policymakers to prudently pay down accumulated debt.”

California State Controller John Chiang.
California State Controller John Chiang.

Across the board, larger-than-expected gains generated the $1.2 billion increase. Corporate taxes were $373.5 million – or 21.5% — more than projections. Personal income tax and sales-tax revenue beat estimates by $644.6 million and $70.1 million respectively.

California’s better job growth helped boost personal income tax – and encouraged more spending by consumers.

California entered the 2011-12 fiscal year with a cash deficit of $9.6 billion, which has been narrowed to $2.4 billion at the end of June. Internal borrowing from specials fund is covering the shortfall.


Construction helps hammer down jobless rate to lowest level since October 2008

California’s jobless rate dropped to 8.6% in May, the lowest level in almost five years – and the 10th-consecutive month of lower or unchanged rates.

The state’s jobless rate was 9.0% in April and 10.7% in May 2012, according to the Employment Development Department. It’s the lowest rate since October 2008.

California added 10,800 jobs in May, and 767,200 since the recovery started in February 2010.

About 1.61 million Californians were jobless last month – or at least collecting unemployment benefits – the fewest since November 2008, according to the closely watched monthly report.

The professional and businesses services category has added 73,400 jobs during the past year, the most among the seven categories with gains. Construction added 38,500 jobs, a 6.6% increase from a year ago, the largest percentage gain.

Manufacturing, once considered a bright point in the state’s anemic recovery, continues to struggle recently, losing 8,000 jobs during the past year.

Again, the Bay Area boasts the best job market, with Marin County at 4.5%, followed by San Mateo County at 4.9%. San Francisco and Napa counties reported jobless rates of 5.2% and 5.3%, respectively.

Agriculture-dependent Imperial County has the highest jobless rate in the sate at 22.8%.

Real Estate

CAR: Equity sales soar, bank-owned deals tumble in May

Bidding wars and double-digit price gains are greatly increasing the number of equity sales – and reducing bank-owned transactions.

Almost four of every five home sales (78.2%) were equity transactions in May, meaning the homeowner leaves with some money in her pocket. The current rate compares to 75.6% in April and only 55.8% in May 2012, according to the California Association of Realtors.

It’s a dramatic about-face for the housing market, where more than half of all home deals were distressed sales just a few years ago.

In fact, short sales dropped to 14.0% of transactions in May, compared to 21% a year ago – and the lowest level since July 2009. And bank-owned sales, also known as REOs, fell to 7.3% in May vs. 22.8% a year ago.

Five counties – Contra Costa, Mendocino, San Diego, San Mateo and Santa Clara – reported single-digit percentages of distressed sales.

The Bay Area is the most expensive market in California.
The Bay Area is the most expensive market in California.

But just as coastal counties are thriving, several inland areas continue to struggle. More than half of Madera County’s deals were distressed sales (52%) in May, followed by nearby Stanislaus County at 40%. And distressed sales were at least one of every three deals last month in six other counties, according to CAR.

Real Estate

Foreclosures plunge to lowest level in seven years, thanks to higher home prices

Foreclosures fell to the lowest level in more than seven years during the fourth quarter in California, the latest evidence of a better housing market and an improving economy.

Notices of default declined to 18,567 notices of default from January through March, a 51.4% percent drop from fourth-quarter 2012 – and off 67% compared to a year ago, according to DataQuick. Notices of default – the first step in the foreclosure process – peaked at 135,431 in first-quarter 2009.

The just-completed quarter’s default notices were the lowest since fourth-quarter 2005, the final months of the housing boom and just before the housing market slide. However, foreclosure activity remains higher than the historic average.

“Foreclosure starts were already trending much lower last year because of rising home prices, a stronger labor market and the settlement agreement between the government and some lenders,” says John Walsh, president of DataQuick. “But it appears last quarter’s drop was especially sharp because of a package of new state foreclosure laws – the Homeowner Bill of Rights – that took effect January 1. Default notices fell off a cliff in January, then edged up.”

Fast-rising home prices definitely helped curb foreclosures. California’s median-home price – meaning half the homes sell for more, the other half for less – increased to $297,000, a 22.7% gain from a year ago, according to DataQuick.

Default notices were higher in the state’s most affordable neighborhoods, with the average homeowner almost nine months and $14,300 behind on their payments.

Most of the loans entering default are from the 2005-2007 period, when weak underwriting was at its peak.

As expected, coastal communities – where home prices are higher and have rebounded faster – report fewer foreclosures than inland areas, such as the Inland Empire and central San Joaquin Valley, at least based on the percentage of filings

Despite the dramatic drop, Walsh adds foreclosures could increase, especially with home prices and refinancing critical to the turnaround.

“It’s certainly possible foreclosure starts will pick up at some point this year if lenders need to play a lot of catch-up,” he says. “Rising home prices will be key to the final mop-up of the foreclosure mess. As values rise, fewer people owe more than their homes are worth and more people can refinance into a more favorable loan. It also means more who fall on hard times can sell their homes for enough to pay off the loan.”


UCLA tougher admission than UC Berkeley for California students

Call it the battle of the bears – and the bragging rights as the hardest-to-enter University of California campus for in-state residents.

In this case, the UCLA Bruins edged out UC Berkeley’s Golden Bears, with only 17.7% of in-state students who applied to attend the Southern California university were admitted in fall 2012, making it the toughest in the nine-school system. Berkeley was almost as difficult, with 22.7% of in-state students who applied being admitted, according to the latest figures from the UC President’s Office.

University of California is among the most exclusive campuses in the University of California system.
University of California is among the most exclusive campuses in the University of California system.

However, Berkeley was a slightly tougher overall, including the all-important international and out-of-state students, a much-bigger focus for the financially strapped UC system (please see related story by clicking here).

Only 21.1% of students who applied to Berkeley were accepted, just a bit tougher than the 21.3% admission rate at UCLA. Berkeley only admitted 12.4% of international applicants and 22.6% of out-of-state students, significantly more stringent than UCLA at 32.0% and 28.8%, respectively. However, UCLA, as mentioned above, was much tougher on in-state applicants.

Overall, 63.5% of applicants – in-state, out-of-state and international students – were accepted into the UC system, but with only UC Merced exceeding, and skewing, the average. Basically, three of every four students who applied were admitted to UC Merced, greatly affecting the average.

UC San Diego was the third-most exclusive school for in-state students and overall, at 32.1% and 37.7%, respectively.

Here are the admission rates and how many students overall were accepted in fall 2012 (please note, just because students are accepted does not ensure they will attend the campus):

— UC Berkeley: 21.1%; 13,038 admitted
— UC Davis: 45.6%; 22,538 admitted
— UC Irvine: 36.3%; 19,806 admitted
— UC Los Angeles: 21.3%; 15,455 admitted
— UC Merced: 75.1%; 9,874 admitted
— UC Riverside: 61.5%; 18,375 admitted
— UC San Diego: 37.7%; 22,939 admitted
— UC Santa Barbara: 43.4%; 23,803 admitted
— UC Santa Cruz: 60.5%: 19,936 admitted
— UC system wide: 63.5%; 80,289 admitted


More than 1M Californians without work for half a year in 2011

Californians have endured much-longer periods between jobs in recent years, the latest evidence of the depth of the recession and more specifically the hard-hit construction industry.

About 1,031,700 people in the state were jobless for more than 27 weeks in February 2011, compared to only 143,300 in May 2007, the six months before the official start of the Great Recession, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Almost half – or 46.1% — of Californians were labeled as long-term unemployed, or 27 consecutive weeks without work. It’s a dramatic increase from the 19.9% in December 2005, according to the state Employment Development Department.

jobs newspaper search

How difficult has the economy been for job seekers? Consider this – almost 40% of residents were without work for less than five weeks before June 2009, basically as they left one position they had little trouble finding work. Now, the long-term jobless have become the biggest category for job seekers, an about-face during the three-year period.

And the percentage of residents without work for 52 weeks – one year – reached 32% in December 2010, almost triple the 11.2% in December 2005, according to the state.

The construction industry’s dramatic decline is the primary reason for the larger-than-average number and percentage of long-term unemployed. The state peaked at 945,100 construction jobs in February 2006, but fell 42.5% to a record-low 543,200 in September 2010.

By the way, the long-term jobless figures –- those without work for 27 weeks — change somewhat by ethnicity at 42.1% for white job seekers and about 54% for African Americans and Asians.


International students 10.6% of admissions to UC schools

Admission to the University of California system is a bit more difficult for residents than just a year ago, as the nine-campus system allows more out-of-state and international students in order to improve the bottom line.

About two of every three in-state applicants – or 65.8% — were admitted to the UC system in fall 2012, compared to 69.7% a year ago and 71.6% in fall 2010, according to the UC system. In-state students who once were more concerned about competing only with fellow Californians are now facing the reality that out-of-state and international students are taking the much-coveted spots.

The budget-strapped UC system admitted 80,289 students last fall, 7,857 more than fall 2011, according to the latest report. But almost three of every four of the additional students – or 73% — were from other states or another country.

In fact, the number of international students increased last fall to 8,537, more than double the 3,616 foreign students in fall 2010. International students now make up 10.6% of admissions in the UC system vs. 5.3% two years ago.

The main entrance at University of California, Santa Barbara.
The main entrance at University of California, Santa Barbara.

And out-of-state students accounted for 12.8% of admissions – or 10,309 – last fall, compared to 8.7% in fall 2010.

So, how many additional in-state students did the UC system accept? A paltry 2,155 more students, less than the boost in international and out-of-state students.

Other facts from the semi-annual report:

— UC Santa Barbara had the most new admissions last fall, with 23,803 students.
— UC Merced had the fewest fall admissions, with 9,874.
— UC San Diego had the most out-of-state and international admissions with 3,822 and 3,603, respectively,
— UC Merced, a still-developing campus, had the lowest number of out-of-state and international admissions with 109 and 214, respectively.


UCLA Anderson Forecast: Modest economic growth

California’s economy will continue to improve during the next three years, benefiting from the much-improved housing market, according to a new report.

But job growth and personal income gains will be modest, at best, especially compared to the historic rate, according to the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

UCLA Anderson senior economist Jerry Nickelsburg says the jobless rate will dip to an average of 9.6% this year, before dropping to 8.4% and 7.2% during the next two years. Real personal income growth – a closely watched figure that greatly affects consumer spending – will improve 1.4% this year, and peak at 3.6% in 2014 before sliding to 3.3% in 2015.

California’s economic growth, which has been buoyed by exports, will likely mirror the national estimates of 1.9% this year before climbing to 2.8% and 3.1% in 2014 and 2015, respectively, according to UCLA Anderson Forecast senior economist David Shulman.