A monthly gain of nearly 7,000 retail trade workers helped reduce Orange County's unemployment rate to 3.2% in August--the third-lowest rate since the state began keeping statistics 13 years ago.
The Orange County jobless rate--down from 3.5% in July--was the lowest in Southern California and ranked "among the lowest in the state," said Tom Farrell, a research analyst with the state Employment Development Department in Los Angeles.
Retail trade jobs increased 3.3% from 205,600 in July to 212,400 in August and were up 7.3% from August, 1986, when total employment in that sector was 198,000, according to figures released Thursday by the department.
The department's report said the expansion of the Main Place/Santa Ana shopping mall and a growing retail market throughout the county were responsible for the monthly increase.
Construction employment also posted a sizable monthly gain, increasing by 6.4% to 59,700 workers in August, from 56,100 jobs in July.
The state posted a 5.4% seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for August, compared to 6% in July.
While labor analysts said the low unemployment rate is good news for job seekers, they cautioned that it also may signal a growing labor shortage that could force firms to pay higher wages or relocate.
Relatively slow growth in manufacturing, compared to other industries, is a sign that companies are having trouble meeting their needs at wages they are willing to pay, according to Esmaeil Adibi, director of the Center for Economic Research at Chapman College.
There were 247,000 manufacturing jobs in August, a 1.4% increase from 243,500 in July and a 1.2% increase from 244,100 jobs last year.
"Companies can find workers. But for a price," Adibi said. "You'll continue to see the number of manufacturing jobs (in Orange County) increasing very slowly, if at all."
The total Orange County labor force for August was 1.26 million workers, a decline of 0.8% from 1.27 million workers in July, traditionally the annual peak. Farrell said July's figures included a large number of student and summer workers. August's total was 5% higher than the 1.2 million people employed in August, 1986.
The number of unemployed workers in Orange County fell to 42,000 in August, compared to 49,500 in July and 50,400 last August.