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VENTURA COUNTY BUSINESS | THE BUSINESS BEAT

County's Unemployment Figure Hits New Low of 4.3%

November 14, 2000|KEVIN F. SHERRY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura County's economy continues to generate new jobs, dropping the unemployment rate in October to 4.3%, which beat analysts' expectations.

October's rate dropped from 5.3% in September and was down from 4.6% in October 1999.

"All you can basically say is, 'Wow,' " said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "This is a very, very strong report."

The figures mean the county had about 17,700 unemployed people in October, a drop from 21,400 in September.

"Your unemployment rate has moved down quite nicely," Kyser said.

Since October 1999, the county has added 7,200 jobs, a 2.6% rate of growth, according to the state Employment Development Department.

After last October's 4.6% unemployment rate, some analysts thought it was as good as it was going to get. But, Kyser said, "the state's economy is an amazing beast."

If the county kept its 4.3% rate, said Mark Schniepp, director of the Center for Regional Economic Research in Santa Barbara, it would be in strong economic shape.

"Four-point-three is about as low as it can get," he said. "California's still very, very strong."

Holding the county back, Schniepp said, is its housing shortage.

"We can't house them, so people don't come in," Schniepp said. "It's just more of the same. There's no major surprise here whatsoever."

Ventura County's economy started 2000 in good shape, Kyser said, and the trend has continued throughout the year. It will probably improve as the holiday season arrives.

The unemployment rate could drop even further as stores hire extra help through January, Kyser said.

After that, there are a number of factors that could alter the economic outlook.

The minimum wage will increase by 50 cents to $6.25 an hour, which may lead to cuts in service areas.

In October, Ventura County ranked 23rd among the state's 58 counties in unemployment. San Mateo County ranked first, with a jobless rate of 1.4%; Imperial County ranked last at 27.5%.

Imperial County relies heavily on farming, and has few other industries to employ people once the growing and harvesting seasons are complete, Kyser said.

"There's nothing there to ease the impact," he said.

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