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County Jobless Rate Drops to 9.2% : Unemployment: The return of students to school helps lower the August figure from July's 10.4%.


Ventura County's jobless rate dipped to 9.2% in August, down from 10.4% a month earlier, a drop that state officials attributed in part to hordes of job-seeking students returning to school.

However, the jobless rate remained high in August in part because many teachers remained officially unemployed until the school year began after Labor Day, said Linda Reed, a labor market analyst with the state Employment Development Department.

"These figures show that we're still in a period of relatively high unemployment," said Marc L. Charney, the president of Ventura County Economic Development Assn. "The economy hasn't recovered to the degree we would have hoped in the last year."

The unemployment figure of 35,400 is slightly lower than that of August, 1992, but it did not fall enough to show that the county's economy and job market have shaken off the lingering recession, local economists said.

"It's just a continuation of the status quo," said Ali Akbari, an economist at Cal Lutheran University. "The psychology of recession is still alive and kicking in Ventura County."

The county's unemployment rate was higher last month than the state and national rates. The unemployment rate for the United States was 6.5% in August, while the unemployment rate for California and Los Angeles County was 8.8%. Bruce DeVine, the head economist for the Southern California Assn. of Governments, said the lower rate in Los Angeles was probably related to summer entertainment and tourism jobs.

That the local economy is still stagnant comes as no surprise to Keith Bankey, 45, an aerospace project manager who has been scrambling for work since May. That's the month Bankey was laid off by Datron Systems, a maker of military radar and telecommunications systems in Simi Valley.

"I started my job search in the L.A. area," said Bankey, who recently filed for unemployment benefits for the first time in his career. "Then I expanded it to California. Now I'm looking nationwide."

It used to be, Bankey said, that less than half a dozen people would apply for a job. Today, though, with federal spending down for the aerospace industry, about 100 people show up for each job opening, he said.

He said he's tried to organize a few meetings for the many unemployed aerospace workers he knows, but few attend. "A lot of people run into so many roadblocks that they're getting down," he said. "But meeting and talking about it is better than sitting at home and moping."

Munira Bengali is also feeling the sting of the California economy. Bengali, 24, moved to Simi Valley from Chicago after getting married in June. In Chicago, she said, she had a computer programming job that she loved and other firms chasing after her, begging her to switch offices. Here, she sends out 12 to 15 resumes per week with scant results.

"I worked for two years, so it's a little disappointing," she said. "But I could even start at entry level--I'm not picky."

Jobs associated with building and development have also taken hard hits, as Vernon Gardner of Oxnard can testify. Gardner, 40, is an unemployed construction worker.

"No one is building, and all the small companies are leaving the area," Gardner said. "All the guys are moving and taking lower-paying jobs in Colorado and the Midwest."

Ventura County lost 6,100 jobs in August, according to data from the state Employment Development Department.

About 2,900 of those jobs were in the government sector and can be largely attributed to the temporary summer loss of school jobs, state officials said. The county also lost 3,200 agricultural jobs in August, but still had 500 more agricultural jobs than in August, 1992, according to the August survey of county employers.

Job gains in some industries made up for job losses in others. For example, retail trade lost 500 jobs in August, but manufacturing added 300 jobs and transportation and public utilities gained 100 jobs each, according to the report.

The employer survey showed that Ventura County lost 3,300 jobs in the last 12 months.

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