YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Economists See Turning Point in O.C. Job Figures


ANAHEIM — In what economists say could be a turning point, state figures released Wednesday show that job losses in Orange County have slowed dramatically.

The county unemployment rate fell to 6.6% in February, down from 7.2% in the previous month, according to the state Department of Employment Development. There were 6,700 new jobs created between January and February.

If the trend continues as expected, economists say Orange County will see meaningful job growth for the first time since 1990.

"This is the first report in 1994 that indicates there is a significant change in job losses," said Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi. Orange County is still losing jobs on a year-to-year basis, including 1,100 non-agricultural positions that evaporated between this February and the same month of 1993. But Adibi said this a trickle compared to the disappearance of up to 9,000 jobs per month at the low point of the recession.

As a result, the county's job reports are "quite encouraging," said Lynn Reaser, chief economist for First Interstate Bank in Los Angeles. "It would indicate that Orange County is beginning to turn the corner. I think it will be moving faster than Los Angeles," she said.

Orange County's 6.6% rate in February was significantly below the February jobless rate in Los Angeles County, at 9.7%, or California as a whole, with 9.8%.

The numbers statewide are sure to improve over the next few months. A UCLA study released Wednesday said California is squarely in an economic recovery. The state is expected to declare, as soon as Friday, that the number of California jobs increased during the two-month period of January and February.

In Orange County, more jobs could be found in tourism, construction, agriculture, government and transportation in February, compared to the year before. But fewer were available in retailing, finance, insurance, real estate and wholesale trade, according to the state.

Job losses in the high-tech and manufacturing sectors were offset by job gains in the service sector.

This reflects lingering cutbacks among defense-related firms, while health care providers and other service companies continue to grow, said Anil Puri, a Cal State Fullerton economics professor.

Job seekers and employment agencies say they have noticed an uptick in the number of new positions available.

"We were surprised at the job orders that came in," said Charlene Walker, a partner in the Womens Focus career counseling company in Tustin.

Starting in January, she said, a surge of requests for professional positions came from some of Orange County's largest technology companies, such as computer distributor Ingram Micro Inc. in Santa Ana, computer tape storage manufacturer Odetics Inc. in Anaheim and computer component and software maker Emulex Corp. in Costa Mesa.

One Womens Focus client, Terri Feld of Yorba Linda, said that while she has not yet found the job she wants after six months of dedicating hunting, she remains encouraged.

A former marketing manager for a stationery company in New Jersey, Feld said she has turned down offers for lesser positions and gone on a few interviews for jobs that pay more than $100,000 a year.

"I find that employers are being extremely specific," she said. One company, she said, "wanted someone who could do product development that has bake ware and metals experience."

Employers say workers with highly specialized skills are in demand.

Lantronix, a fast-growing Irvine data communications products maker, has had little trouble filling accounting clerk openings. But a position for a computer products manager has gone unfilled for three months because no applicant so far has quite the credentials sought by the company.

Some professions are so in demand that few candidates are available. Linda Whickum, office manager for the Total Recruiting Services Inc. subsidiary of Fluor Daniel in Irvine, said that electrical engineers with petrochemical experience seem hard to come by.

O.C. Jobless Rate Dips

Unemployment in Orange County dropped to 6.6% in February from 7.2% in January. The rate remains below the July, 1993, high of 7.4%, but well above the two-year low of 5.4% in January, 1992.

January 1992: 5.4% July 1993: 7.4% February 1994: 6.6%

Source: California Employment Development Department

Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times Articles