After a sharp jump in July, Ventura County's unemployment rate held steady last month with few businesses hiring or firing workers.
A report released Friday by the state's Employment Development Department showed the county's unemployment rate at 8.1% at the end of August, up slightly from 8% in July.
Although the figure reflects a significant rise in unemployment since June, when the rate stood at 6.6%, economists cautioned that the jump was mostly seasonal, as vacationing college and high school students swelled the ranks of job seekers.
Furthermore, August's unemployment rate was lower than the 8.6% rate reported during the same month last year. Doug Perron, a state labor market analyst, noted that the Ventura County economy has actually added 2,400 nonfarm jobs since August 1995.
Even local manufacturing companies, which have been bleeding jobs for years, added 300 positions.
"We've seen about all of the defense downsizing and manufacturing downsizing we're going to see," Perron said.
From July to August, the county lost 2,100 jobs in such fields as transportation and business services. About 1,100 fewer people were employed by the county's school districts as work dried up for staff support and grounds maintenance personnel who don't have year-round contracts to carry them through the summer recess.
Education employment typically rebounds in September and October, Perron said. With Ventura County school districts hiring about 350 teachers this summer as part of the state's classroom size reduction program, the increase should be even higher.
Since August of 1995, Ventura County has added about 800 retail positions and 1,300 jobs in agriculture, the county's largest source of employment.
During the same period, the county lost about 600 federal government jobs.
Ventura Mayor Jack Tingstrom said the report's portrait of a slowly expanding local economy fits with what he has seen in his city.
Several local manufacturing firms have announced plans to expand, he said, and retail sales in Ventura have increased slightly, although not as much as sales in other communities.
"It's going in the right direction," he said. "At least it's not going down."
In Simi Valley, Mayor Greg Stratton said he has seen some increased economic activity, with one manufacturing firm, Standard Abrasives Inc., about to build a new facility in town.
"From the home sales and other indicators we have, [the economy] seems to be firming up," he said.
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Ventura County Jobless Rate
August, 1996: 8.1%
Source: California Employment Development Department