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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

April Jobless Rate of 4.1% Lowest Since March 1990

Economy: County unemployment continues to fall. More than 3,000 positions are created, a surge that surprises many analysts.

May 15, 1999|COLL METCALFE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unemployment in Ventura County continued to fall in April, dropping three-tenths of a percentage point to 4.1%--the lowest rate for any month since March 1990.

According to a report released Friday by the state's Employment Development Department, more than 3,000 positions were created in April.

Most of the employment activity was concentrated in the farming, service and construction industries.

"The numbers are very strong," said department labor market analyst Dee Johnson. "The growth in the economy and in jobs in the county has been solid and consistent."

The majority of growth last month occurred in farming, which increased its payroll by about 1,700. Workers have been added for the seasonal harvests and plantings and will be dropped once they are done.

In nonfarm industries, more than 1,300 jobs were created in April. Most of those jobs, about 1,100, were in the service industry. The construction and light manufacturing industries together added about 700 workers.

With 280,100 residents employed, Ventura County ranks 13th among the state's 58 counties in employment.

Its unemployment rate also falls well below the state average of 5.5%. The number of jobless residents fell from 17,800 in March to 16,300 last month.

In the more telling year-to-year comparisons, unemployment dropped from 4.5% in April 1998 to 4.1% last month with the creation of more than 10,000 nonfarm jobs.

Most of that growth occurred in the service sector, which employed more than 4,000 additional workers.

Construction and government also increased payrolls by 2,400 and 2,100 respectively.

This latest surge in job creation has surprised many economists who earlier predicted that the state and local economies would begin to cool by midyear.

There is little sign that the momentum that was carried over from a robust 1998 has begun to ebb.

"The long-awaited slowdown hasn't started and it doesn't look like it's going to any time soon," said Mark Schniepp, director of the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project. "If this keeps up, 1999 could be the best year this century."

Schniepp said that all leading economic indicators have held strong throughout the first five months of the year and there is little on the horizon to signal a major downshifting in the local economy.

Job creation remains heated, the real estate market is still frenzied and market sectors are continuing to show resilience in the face of a global economic cooling.

"The unemployment rate is symbolic of everything that's going on in the economy right now," Schniepp said. "It's surprisingly strong."

However, he didn't feel the success the county has enjoyed for so long will last indefinitely.

Low unemployment rates, while good indicators of an economy's overall strength, also mean that the labor pool is evaporating, which could result in across-the-board slowing.

"These numbers are not sustainable," Schniepp said. "At some point things will have to change, but that doesn't mean things will be bad. . . . Even with slower growth things would still be pretty good."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ventura County Jobless Rate

Apr. 1999: 4.1%

Source: California Employment Development Department

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