Unemployment in Long Beach continued its slow but steady decline in January but remains higher than nearly 72% of other Los Angeles County cities, according to data released by the California Employment Development Department.

In January, Long Beach’s unadjusted unemployment dropped to 6.4%, down from 6.7% the month before. At the county level, meanwhile, unemployment only decreased from 6.2% in December to 6.1% last in January.

While unemployment did decline in the city, both the labor force and number of employed residents decreased, the data shows. Long Beach’s labor force declined from 234,900 in December to 233,800 in January, with the number of employed residents dropping by 500 over the same period.

“Employment has declined because we are still roughly 18,000 jobs, or 10%, less than we had in 2019,” Nick Schultz, executive director of Long Beach’s Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network, told the Business Journal. “Leisure and hospitality makes up about 50% of that loss, mostly in jobs that require face-to-face interaction.”

The labor force declined for two reasons, Schultz said: More people are gravitating toward independent contractor jobs and the rising number of business license applications.

“People are betting on themselves rather than making themselves available to a payroll employer,” Schultz said.

Countywide, the labor force number of employed residents increased by 21,500 and 26,600 people, respectively.

Across the state, the unemployment rate held steady at 5.8%, according to the EDD, compared to 4% nationwide. The state began 2021 with an unemployment rate of 8.8%.

“California’s labor market performed more impressively in 2021 than original estimates had suggested,” Taner Osman, research manager at Beacon Economics and the Center for Economic Forecasting, said in a statement. “The state added jobs at a rate that was more than 50% greater than the national growth rate, and with abundant job openings and more room to grow, we expect to see California’s labor market continue to outperform the national economy in 2022.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.