Signaling an end to the county's dramatic job growth of last year, the unemployment rate in Orange County jumped to 4.3% in January amid layoffs in several key industries, the state's Employment Development Department reported Thursday.
To a large degree, the increase from December's rate of 3.5%--the lowest in 16 years--was expected because of such factors as the end of the holiday shopping and traveling season, which hits the retail and tourism industries, and winter rains, which slow new construction. In all, the county lost about 7,800 jobs from December to January.
Orange County's employment rate still remains above the rest of the state. In neighboring Los Angeles County, unemployment rose a full point to 8% during the same period. Statewide, the seasonally adjusted rate increased to 7.3%.
However, the sharpness of the increase in Orange County, as well as ongoing layoffs in the high-tech and oil services industries, led analysts to conclude that the days of high job growth in the county are over for the time being.
Furthermore, there was some speculation the unemployment rate would continue a modest upward spiral because the worldwide gluts in the oil and computer parts industries affect some of the county's largest employers.
"Although the (jobless) increase mostly reflects the post-holiday cutbacks, it also shows that the employment growth has begun to level off," said James Doti, director of the Center for Economic Research at Chapman College in Orange. "The important implication for the area is that there will be additional layoffs as the economy adjusts to the change."
Alta Yetter, labor market analyst for the Employment Development Department, noted that layoffs at the county's computer manufacturers and oil services companies are continuing, and even accelerating, because of the ongoing oversupply in those markets.
In the last 60 days, several major Orange County companies have announced cuts in their work force. Smith International, the giant oil services company in Newport Beach, eliminated about 740 jobs. Apple Corp. released 150 workers from its Garden Grove manufacturing facility, and Printronix Inc. in Irvine cut 190 jobs. And earlier this week, UCI Medical Center in Orange said it would pare its staff by 104 workers in an effort to reduce losses.
Among the 7,800 jobs lost in the last month, 4,500 were in retail, 1,500 from construction payrolls, and local public schools and colleges cut about 1,700 employees. Additionally, manufacturing employment, traditionally not affected by winter seasonal factors, lost 600 jobs.
The number of county residents seeking jobs in January rose to 56,100.
Although the latest unemployment statistics are not particularly cheery, the analysts note that Orange County is far from slipping into any sort of recession. According to the state, 78,300 new jobs were created in Orange County in 1984, giving the county 961,700 jobs, 9% more than in 1983.