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O.C. Jobless Rate Falls to 6.5% in August


ANAHEIM — Mirroring drops in the state and national rates, Orange County's jobless rate fell to 6.5% in August, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday.

August's jobless rate, down from July's 7.4%, was about the same as a year earlier. Experts said the good news is that the local economy is holding its own.

"The operative word here is flat ," said Dennis Macheski of the accounting firm Price Waterhouse. "There was a slight uptick in the first six months of the year, but it appears to have petered out over the summer.

"It's positive news, though, that we're not that far behind where we were last year."

The local jobless rate, which was 6.7% in August, 1992, has fluttered around that level ever since.

"The fact the unemployment rate was so high in July is more or less a statistical aberration," said Esmael Adibi, director of the Center for Economic Research at Chapman University. "If you look at the whole year, you see the economy's been more or less steady."

Because the nation's economy is not growing very fast, Adibi said, Orange County's is not either. Employers are hiring only part-timers, he said, or not hiring at all as they wait to see whether the business will turn up.

"They can squeeze the goods and services they need out of existing employees," he said.

In fact, the county lost 13,500 jobs during the past year, or about 1% of its 1.3 million jobs, according to the EDD.

The biggest losers were manufacturing, down 8,500--5,500 of them in high-technology businesses; construction, down 4,400 jobs; wholesale trade, down 2,500, and retail trade, down 2,200.

The only gainers were transportation and public utilities, up a total of 1,000 jobs from a year earlier; service businesses, which include everything from lawyers to busboys, up 5,200; and government, up 2,000.

Across Orange County, 90,000 people were counted as jobless last month.

A year earlier, the county was in about the same shape: 93,000 were unemployed in August, 1992.

The main reason that the unemployment rate fell last month was because the county's labor force of 1.4 million people shrank by about 18,000.

Most of those people probably dropped out of the job market after getting discouraged when they could not find work, said Eleanor Jordan, an analyst at the EDD office in Anaheim. The same thing accounted for much of the drop in the state unemployment rate too.

The county actually lost 4,700 jobs during August in every industry but construction and transportation. Only about half of those jobs, though, were lost permanently. The rest were held by public school teachers and college professors, most of whom returned to work this month.

The August drop in the jobless rate was not a surprise. The state rate for August had already been reported to have dropped to 9% from July's 9.8%. The national rate also fell, to 6.7%--a two-year low.

California is lagging the nation's economic recovery because cuts in defense spending and a slump in real estate have eliminated jobs in those industries.

Defense and real estate are also problems in Orange County, though this prosperous area has weathered the recession better than much of the rest of the state.

Job Outlook Brightens

Unemployment in Orange County dropped to 6.5% in August, the county's lowest jobless rate since the 6.1% recorded in May.

August Comparisons

Orange County: 6.5%

California: 8.8

U.S.: 6.5

Source: State Employment Development Department

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