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County Jobless Rate Climbed to 6.5% in February : Unemployment: It was up 0.1% from the previous month and no turnaround is expected until summer at the earliest.


ANAHEIM — Orange County continues to feel the effects of the lingering recession.

The county's unemployment rate inched up to 6.5% in February from 6.4% the previous month, the third consecutive decline in the number of employed workers, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday.

The latest figure compared with a jobless rate of 6.1% for December but was still better that the nine-year high of 7.1% recorded for November.

EDD officials said the 6.5% figure is "provisional" and could change in June.

The trend is not surprising, said local economists, who have long predicted continued drops in employment well into 1993. The county has lost about 15,100 jobs in the past year, most of them in defense and other manufacturing sectors.

"We're basically in a holding pattern," said Esmael Adibi, an economist at Chapman University. "It looks like businesses are waiting to see if there is a solid recovery before they go around hiring people."

In fact, the consensus is that jobs will continue to be lost through the first half of the year. Not until the third quarter, economists say, will the recovery already being felt elsewhere reach the Northwest and California.

Walter Hahn, an economist in the Newport Beach office of accounting firm Kenneth Leventhal & Co., said that cuts are likely to continue for six more months, especially in defense and manufacturing. But as consumers in other parts of the nation begin to spend more on products made locally, manufacturers will begin hiring.

The EDD reported that the county has lost 9,600 manufacturing jobs in the past 12 months. Of that total, 1,200 jobs have disappeared in so-called non-durable manufacturing: the apparel, plastic, paper, printed products and food industries. About 8,400 jobs have been lost in durable-goods manufacturing, which includes the furniture, metal, industrial machinery, electronics and defense industries.

As demand for locally made products increases in other parts of the nation, jobs will be created here in the latter part of 1993, Hahn said. Nevertheless, he said, Orange County will have a net loss of 5,000 jobs for all of 1993--no matter what President Clinton accomplishes in deficit reduction.

"I think a large part of the effect of the Clinton Administration has already been felt," Hahn said. "It was actually felt starting last fall. During the election, he came out with his program, a fairly definitive program, as opposed to Bush. He had something definite to say."

Chapman's Adibi also foresees no turnaround in employment until summer at the earliest, but he predicts that, when the recovery does begin, it will be brisk. By December, he said, the county will see a "minuscule" increase in employment.

A recovery already is taking place on a month-to-month basis and in certain sectors, said Eleanor Jordan, EDD labor market analyst for Orange County. For instance, February showed a net increase of 5,200 jobs compared with January. While month-to-month comparisons with no seasonal adjustments are generally not valid, Jordan said, the number of jobs gained in February compared with an increase of only 1,300 jobs for the same month last year.

Jordan also pointed out that the services sector saw strong gains. Local school districts in Orange County accounted for 2,600 new jobs in February, while business services--advertising, secretarial services, photocopying, equipment rentals, security services, data processing and employment agencies--added 4,600 positions.

"I think it is a good sign," Jordan said.

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