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Jobless Rate in Orange County Drops to 5.1% : Employment: Economist calls numbers "impressive" as job growth among local schools and home builders helps make rate the third-lowest in the state.

March 25, 1995|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Local schools and home builders added thousands of employees to their payrolls during February, helping to reduce Orange County unemployment to 5.1%, the third-lowest rate in the state.

Some of the job increases were seasonal, analysts said. Better weather after January's torrential rains showed up in increased construction employment in the February job tally. Economists said the gains also show that the local economy is prospering despite the county government's $1.7-billion investment loss and subsequent bankruptcy last year.

"We have passed the point of recovery" since the recession of the early 1990s, said Esmael Adibi, director of the Chapman University Center of Economic Research. "We are in the expansion. . . . The numbers are pretty impressive."

The county's jobless rate was down from 5.4% in January and was a huge improvement over the 6.7% rate reported for February, 1994. It compares to a statewide February unemployment rate of 8.1% and a national rate of 5.9%. Only Marin County, at 4.5%, and San Mateo County, at 4.6%, had a better employment picture for that month.

Adibi said he expects Orange County employers to add 17,000 to their payrolls this year. Revised 1993 and 1994 job figures published last month by the state Employment Development Department show that the county's economy supported formation of 13,500 new jobs since February, 1994--a 1.3% annual growth rate.

Particularly heartening has been an increase of 2,700 jobs in manufacturing over the 12-month period, said Ken Moore, chief executive of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Manufacturing steadily lost jobs from 1991 through 1993 as businesses closed or moved out of the county in response to economic conditions and increasingly rigorous environmental rules.

Now, though, gains in the so-called soft-goods segment of manufacturing--food processing, textiles, printing and chemicals--are offsetting losses in aerospace and electronic equipment manufacturing, according to state labor market analysts.

"Perhaps it shows that, even in spite of the county's bankruptcy, there is an improving economy here," Moore said.

In efforts to cope with the county's financial problems, city governments have dropped 300 workers from their payrolls since December, with the county government trimming 200 jobs in February alone. A total of 1,400 jobs have been cut from local government payrolls since February, 1994, Jordan said.

The only other employment category to show a significant year-to-year decline was the combined finance, insurance and real estate segment, where the effects of a weak economy, rising interest rates and uncertainty over the county's future in the wake of the bankruptcy caused activity to slow significantly.

A total of 4,500 jobs were slashed from those payrolls, with banks, mortgage brokers and other finance businesses absorbing most of the loss.

Business services--including legal, accounting, bookkeeping and general consulting--posted a year-to-year increase of 3,000 jobs.

Retail trade took on 3,400 new workers, while wholesale trade, which is heavily dependent on the county's growing involvement in overseas commerce, grew by 2,600 jobs.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

(Orange County Edition, A1) Orange County's Jobless Rate Down

The local unemployment rate dropped to 5.1% in February from 5.4% in January. Economists said the figures show the economy is prospering despite the county government's $1.7-billion investment loss and bankruptcy. D1

February '95: 5.1%

Source: State Employment Development Department

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