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10% Jobless Rate Is the Highest Since 1983 : Employment: 38,900 residents were out of work in November. Some signs suggest that the local economy may improve this year.

January 01, 1993|PATRICK McCARTNEY and CHRISTOPHER HEREDIA | McCartney is a Times correspondent and Heredia is a Times staff writer

Ventura County's jobless rate climbed to 10% in November, the highest unemployment figure in nearly a decade, labor officials said Thursday.

In its monthly report, the state Employment Development Department reported that 38,900 individuals were out of work in Ventura County, 3,300 more than in October and 12,100 more than 12 months earlier.

The county's job picture reflected the economic woes of California as a whole. The state's unemployment rate rose to 9.9% in November, while nationally the jobless rate was 7.2%.

Despite the grim statistics, some recent signs suggest that the county's economy has already bottomed out and might be ready to improve this year.

One clue is that job losses have slowed, said Larry Kennedy, who heads the state unemployment office in Simi Valley.

Initial claims in November for unemployment benefits continued to decline from the levels seen earlier in 1992, and the total pool of jobless people receiving benefits dropped below 16,000 at the Simi Valley office for the first time in 1992, Kennedy said.

Citing an increase since the start of last year through November of 9,200 in the number of unemployed, Kennedy said the figure in part reflects the return of some discouraged job-seekers to the labor force.

"A lot of those are people who have been discouraged but are not as discouraged now," he said. "Five to seven months ago, they said, 'Why look?' Now, they're more hopeful and are jumping back into the labor market."

To count as unemployed, a person must be actively seeking work, according to federal labor regulations.

Richard L. Ball, an executive at Ventura County National Bank who conducts an economic survey of county businesses twice yearly, said increased consumer confidence, a good Christmas retail season and fewer problem loans may point to a recovery this year.

"What we're noticing is we don't see customers experiencing the problems in paying back loans that we were for a while," said Ball, whose bank serves mostly county businesses.

"It's not going to a big jump in the economy this year, but it looks like we'll have a gradual improvement," he said.

One of the firms to benefit from a good holiday season was Network Personnel, a temporary employee agency that saw a rise in demand from retail stores for temporary staffs.

Manager Cristy Warner attributed the doubling of demand for temporary employees to employers' reluctance to add permanent employees.

Yet even as some signs of a recovery surfaced, the November job figures gave little cause for encouragement.

November's 10% jobless rate was the highest since August, 1983, when the county's unemployment rate was 10.2%

State labor analyst Linda Reed said the increase of 11,100 people in the job market in the past 12 months was more than matched by a rise in the number of unemployed.

During the year, the county lost 2,800 jobs, with payrolls shrinking by 1,000 in the retail trades, by 700 in construction and 300 each in transportation, public utilities and manufacturing.

A drop of 3,400 agricultural jobs in November was the apparent result of a bumper crop in the county's orange groves, said labor contractor Ralph De Leon of Servicios Agricolas Mexicanos.

"Usually we have a gradual decrease in employment from September to November," De Leon said, "but this year we had a sudden drop-off when the harvest was finished."

The increase in unemployment was keenly felt in the Ventura unemployment office, where 27-year-old Martha Almodovar of Ventura said she has had a hard time finding work since losing a job as a cashier months ago.

"I feel I am a good worker and responsible, but it's still very hard to convince people to hire you," Almodovar said.

Anna Mendoza said she has had to sleep in a car at times while she has been unemployed.

"This is the first time in my life that I've asked for help," Mendoza said. "I am hoping for something better in the new year."

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