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Unemployment Dips Despite Lack of Affordable Housing


A lack of affordable housing continues to hamper job growth in Ventura County, although analysts say the region's overall economic forecast looks good.

Preliminary figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department show the county's unemployment rate dropped to 5.3% in September, half a percentage point below the month before. The county rate mirrors similar unemployment declines in California and the nation.

"It's not bad news at all," said Mark Schniepp, director of the Center for Regional Economic Research in Santa Barbara.

In September, Ventura County had an estimated 21,400 unemployed civilians, down from 23,700 in August. The decrease in joblessness has brought the county back to its September 1999 rate.

"Basically, the whole state economy looks good," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

In September, 32 of California's 58 counties ranked better than Ventura County in terms of unemployment. Marin and San Mateo counties tied for first place with unemployment rates of 1.5%, while Imperial County ranked last with a jobless rate of 32.9%.

In Ventura County, the number of nonfarm jobs has increased by only 1.7% from a year ago, a much lower growth rate than the county experienced in 1999 over 1998.

"What you are seeing there is a continuation of the sluggish trend that began midyear," Kyser said.

Many companies do not want to move into Ventura County because the lack of affordable housing would leave their workers with no convenient place to stay.

"Housing is just the big constraint," Schniepp said.

The high prices and unavailability of housing send companies and their jobs elsewhere, Schniepp said. For example, the Sacramento Valley and the Riverside-San Bernardino area have plentiful, less-expensive housing that attracts companies and workers, he said.

Locally, there are not enough skilled workers for the jobs available, a reason the county remains at 5.3% unemployment, Schniepp said.

"There's just nobody left to hire," he said. "The labor markets are just strained to capacity."

Kyser wonders whether the recent ballot measures intended to protect farmland might be having an adverse effect on county employment growth.

"This may be a delayed impact from the SOAR initiative," he said. "Do you have enough space available for business?"

Retail, manufacturing and service jobs remained healthy last month, Schniepp said. Farm jobs also maintained solid growth, increasing 5.5% from a year ago.

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