Unemployment rates held steady in California and Los Angeles County last month but the Inland Empire saw a decline, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday.

California's jobless rate remained stuck at 9.8 percent in December - level with the previous month's reading but well below the year-ago rate of 11.2 percent.

The state shed 17,500 jobs over the month but it has added 556,500 since the economic recovery began in February 2010.

Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said people shouldn't place too much emphasis on one monthly drop in employment.

Things are looking increasingly better, he said, when viewed from a bigger perspective.

"The good news about this report is that we've seen steady gains in jobs over the course of 2012," he said. "I think 2012 was a transition year. We finally saw some substantial gains."

California's employment grew by 1.6 percent between December 2011 and December 2012 with 225,900 new jobs, according to the report.

Los Angeles County's jobless rate for December was also unchanged - at 10.2 percent - but down from 12 percent a year earlier.

The county added 9,600 jobs over the month, boosting its overall work force to 3,922,900. Year-over-year, employment grew by 1.8 percent, or 69,500 jobs.

Trade, transportation and utilities posted the biggest gains in December with 3,700 new jobs.

The information sector - home to such industries as newspaper publishing, motion picture and sound recording and Internet service providers - added another 3,100 jobs.

Additional gains were seen in construction (2,500) and professional business services (2,100).

Losses occurred in religious activities, grant making and civic and professional organizations.

Pasadena is in line for more job losses following recent reports from Avon Products Inc. and Macy's Inc.

On Wednesday, Avon announced it will be closing its 353,000-square-foot distribution center in Pasadena as part of a corporate cost-savings plan. That will result in more than 170 job losses next year.

Company spokeswoman Jennifer Dwyer Vargas said it's unlikely that those employees will be able to stay on with Avon.

"We'll work with them on transition plans and outplacement packages," Vargas said. "But their options may be limited in terms of transferring to other positions."

Another blow came earlier this month when Macy's announced it will be closing an underperforming store in the city's Paseo Colorado mall, a move that will leave most of those 116 employees out of work. The store is scheduled to close in early spring.

The Inland Empire's unemployment rate fell to 10.9 percent in December compared with 11.3 percent the previous month and 12.2 percent a year earlier, the EDD reported.

The region added 3,400 jobs in December and 12,600 over the year.

The job gains and drop in unemployment are certainly welcome. But Kleinhenz said the two-county region still has a long way to go.

"The economy was much harder hit there, so we expect that the recovery there will bit a long longer," he said. "Damage done by the foreclosure crisis and the loss of jobs that took place there were much more severe."

The Inland Empire's biggest job gains for December also came in trade, transportation and utilities, which added 3,600 jobs over the month.

Educational and health services added another 1,200, leisure and hospitality increased its payrolls by 900 jobs and other services added 600 more jobs.

Manufacturing ended a three-month slide by adding 100 jobs, but construction and government each lost 1,200 jobs.

Other job losses occurred in local government education and professional and business services.

Stephen Levy, director and chief economist at the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, noted that California's 2012 growth of 1.6 percent was down from the previous year's 1.7 percent.

But it was still better than the nation's 2012 growth rate of 1.4 percent. 

"Looking at the past 12 months California has slightly outpaced the nation in job growth, which is expected to continue in 2013," he said. "While the state benefits from a surge in technology jobs, a rebound in tourism and rising construction levels, California's growth is still tied to the uncertainties in the national economy around fiscal challenges and the slower world economy growth."

Levy agreed with Kleinhenz that it's better to view California's job growth through a longer lens.

"At this point it is better to look at the year-over-year trends since the monthly data are too volatile to interpret," he said.

Unemployment rates fell in less than half of U.S. states last month, as steady but slow hiring is making only gradual improvement in the job market.

The Labor Department said Friday that rates fell in 22 states in December and rose in 16. They were unchanged in 12.


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