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California's Job Market Remains Strong in Oct.

Labor: State's jobless rate drops slightly to 4.7%, and 39,500 positions are created. Record 16.3 million people are employed. In Orange County, rate slips to 2.3%.

November 14, 2000|LISA GIRION | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite early signs of a slowing national economy, California's strong job growth pushed into October as the unemployment rate dippedto 4.7% and employers statewide added a hefty 39,500 jobs, state officials said Monday.

Unemployment in Orange County edged down to 2.3%, near its historical low. That compared with 2.5% in September and 2.6% in October 1999. Retailers, services and government in the county all bulked up last month, although some of that may have reflected seasonal hiring.

Michael S. Bernick, director of the California Employment Development Department, which released the statewide report, said he was struck by the persistent strength in the labor market.

"We see these 'new-economy' companies that go out of business and lay people off," he said. "But it's more than made up for in California by continued job growth, particularly in the business services area." Business services include temporary-help firms, software publishers and advertising agencies.

October's jobless rate for California was lower than the 4.8% reported for September and the 5% of a year ago. But it remained higher than the national figure of 3.9% for October. A record 16.3 million people in the state held jobs last month, including self-employed and those who work in family businesses.

Payroll employment, meanwhile, totaled 14.1 million last month--up a robust 3.2% from a year earlier. Orange County's payroll jobs came in just under 1.4 million, an increase of 2.8% from October 1999.

But Scott Grannis, chief economist for Western Asset Management in Pasadena, said he doesn't expect the labor market to stay this tight, because of slowing investment, increasing fuel prices and high tax burdens.

"California is starting to slowly run out of gas like the nation," Grannis said. "It's still growing at a healthy rate, but at a slower rate as time goes by."

All sectors except for mining added jobs in October, led by services, which, with 20,400 new jobs, was responsible for more than half the total gain.

Bay Area counties continued to report the lowest jobless rates, led by San Mateo at 1.4%, down from 1.8% in October 1999. By contrast, the highest unemployment rate was in Imperial County, east of San Diego, at 27.5%, up from 25.3% a year ago. (With the exception of Los Angeles County, county figures are not seasonally adjusted.)

In Los Angeles County, the October unemployment rate held steady from September at 5.4%, down from 5.8% in October 1999.

Los Angeles' unemployment rate is even more spectacular when big losses in aircraft manufacturing jobs--almost 8,000 in a year--are taken into account, said Lisa Grobar, director of Cal State Long Beach's Economic Forecast Project.

"In spite of that, there's enough growth going on to offset those losses," Grobar said. "Almost every other sector is doing well or extraordinarily well."

Jack Kyser of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. said the state's monthly jobs report offers fresh evidence that film and television production is being stepped up to offset the possibility that Hollywood writers and actors could go out on strike next year. The motion picture sector added 10,500 jobs over last October, a 5.4% increase.

"It's a huge amount of stockpiling," Kyser said. "You'll see strength in this sector through May, and then kerplunk. Even if there is no strike, they will have stockpiled so much film, you will have a dead period in the middle of next year. You'll have a de facto strike. Next year, it's going to be a wild ride in Hollywood, no matter what happens.

"If you are a restaurant owner, you'll be up to your waist in wait staff," he said.

Restaurant owners, as it turns out, have been doing quite a bit of hiring statewide. Thanks almost entirely to restaurants and bars, retail trade employment in October made its largest monthly advance since July, growing by 5,300 jobs.

"Retail trade includes takeout food and things like that, and, since people have jobs, they would be eating more of that," said Cecilia Conrad, an associate professor of economics at Pomona College.

Orange County led Southern California with the lowest October unemployment. San Diego County was next at 2.8%, also lower than a year ago, when the rate was 2.9%.

Ventura County's jobless rate in October was 4.3%, down from 4.6% a year ago. San Bernardino County's unemployment rate was 4.4% in October, down from 4.6% last year. Riverside County's unemployment rate was the highest in the region at 5.6% in October, the same as a year ago.

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