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Orange County’s employment figures in May were littered with mixed signals.
Job losses in the important professional and business services sector outpaced gains in other industries as the county shed 1,100 jobs in May from April, breaking a three-month streak of job gains.
That sector, touted by economists as the leading recovery engine here, shed 4,700 jobs.
Losses were seen throughout most segments, although administrative and support services, which include temporary work, accounted for nearly half the cutbacks.
Those losses weren’t enough to sway the unemployment rate though, which dropped to 8.5%, down from a revised 8.6% in April and 9.2% a year earlier, according to the state Employment Development Department.
The last time the unemployment rate was under 9% for two straight months was more than two years ago. That also snapped five months of alternating below 9% to above 9%.
The county's employment was flat at 1.36 million nonfarm workers.
Construction, decimated in the downturn and a lingering sore spot in the recovery, added more jobs in May than any other sector for the first time in years. It added 1,800 jobs in every major sector.
Specialty trade contractors led the gains, accounting for 72% of the growth.
Other job gains were seen in trade, transportation, and utilities, up 1,600 jobs.
Leisure and hospitality added 1,600 jobs as the tourism season started.
Government added 1,000 jobs while information services saw a small uptick of 100 jobs.
Manufacturing shed 1,200 jobs while financial activities lost 700 jobs.
Other services, a catch-all category that includes equipment and machinery repair, religious activities, grantmaking, laundry, pet care, and dating services among other sectors, shed 600 jobs.
Employers here in May added 1,900 jobs, about flat from a year earlier. That marked the tenth month of consecutive yearly gains.
Leisure and hospitality posted the largest yearly growth, adding 9,700 jobs. Restaurants and hotels accounted for more than 81% of the gains.
Educational and health services added 2,900 jobs, led by advances in health care and social assistance, which accounted for 83% of the growth.
Government posted the largest yearly decline, losing 5,600 jobs.
Federal government lost 3,900 jobs, while local government shed 2,700 jobs. Those losses more than offset the gains in state government, which added 1,000 jobs. Most of those gains were concentrated in state government education.
This was the third straight month since the recent recession that government led the yearly decline and that could continue in the coming months.
The government sector is often a lagging indicator.
Job losses didn’t show up until the recovery was under way as state and local government shed jobs to combat deep budget shortfalls.