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jobless.JPGThe good news is that with a recent surge of employment, California has regained virtually all of the million-plus jobs it lost during what many call the Great Recession.

The Employment Development Department reported Friday that California's unemployment rate, which hit a high of 12.4 percent in 2010, dropped to 8 percent in February. California had added 336,000 non-agricultural jobs in the previous 12 months.

The bad news is that despite regaining those lost jobs, California still has one of the nation's highest jobless rates, surpassed by only a handful of other states, and it's still well above the national average of 6.7 percent.

How can that be?

It's because over more than seven years of economic decline and recovery, California's population has grown and therefore so has its potential workforce, and the unemployment rate is the percentage of the labor force that doesn't have jobs.

California's lowest unemployment rate in recent history was 4.8 percent for a few months in late 2006, when about 850,000 of the state's 17.8 million available workers were unemployed.

In the 7-1/2 years since then, California's labor force has grown by 800,000-plus to 18.6 million but the state has only 193,000 more people employed, leaving 640,000 more Californians without jobs than there were in 2006. Hence, with 1.5 million unemployed, the state has a much-higher unemployment rate now than it did then.

Two other factors also round out California's employment picture, and undercut somewhat the positive news of recent job gains.

One is labor force participation - the percentage of Californians of working age who either are working or seeking work. That's just 62.2 percent, the lowest rate in more than three decades, according to EDD. Were more Californians between the ages of 16 and 64 to join the labor force and seek work, the state's unemployment rate would be higher.

The second is what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "U-6" - the percentage of the labor force that's not only unemployed, but involuntarily working part-time or "marginally attached" to the labor force. BLS calls it "labor underutilization."

For 2013, California had the nation's second highest U-6 rate, 17.3 percent. And in Los Angeles County, which has more than a quarter of the state's population, it was 19.8 percent.

PHOTO: A group meets during a workshop for unemployed people at a community center in Corona, Calif., Aug. 7, 2012. The New York Times/Monica Almeida


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