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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Jobless Rate for County Dips to 3.6%

Economy: An expert doesn't see any local slowdown, despite losses in the rest of the country. Much of the hiring during March was in the agricultural sector.

April 14, 2001|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unemployment fell to 3.6% last month from 3.9% the month before in Ventura County, as seasonal fruit and vegetable harvests created jobs for a second month in a row.

"I'm trying to get ready for the slowdown, but I don't see much evidence of it," said Mark Schniepp, director of the California Economic Forecast Project and an expert on the county's economy.

Local job creation dropped, with 2,900 new jobs compared with 3,500 in February, according to the report released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

Altogether, there were 301,700 people employed in Ventura County in March.

Agriculture created about 1,600 jobs in March and employed an estimated 23,600 workers countywide.

"This is typically the peak employment time of the year," said Rex Laird, director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau. "Strawberries, celery, lemons, avocados--most of the major commodities in the county are being harvested."

About 1,300 jobs in other sectors were created--500 in construction, 400 in services and 300 in government. Manufacturing jobs were down by 100 from February, but are up 3% overall from the year before. Technology jobs also have grown over the last year.

The nationwide unemployment rate for March was 4.6%, and California's unemployment rate was 4.8%. Ventura County ranks 13th lowest among the state's 58 counties. Los Angeles County was at 4.7%, Orange County 2.4% and Riverside and San Bernardino counties 4.5%.

How seriously Ventura County businesses--from technology companies to citrus packinghouses--will be affected by the state's energy crisis in the months to come is not known.

Natural gas prices remain high, electricity rate hikes are pending and rolling blackouts are predicted as summer approaches.

"It may get a lot hotter, and the outcome with our current utility situation is so unpredictable," Schniepp said.

"Furthermore, we don't know to what extent the national economy will continue to weaken and have a perceptible impact on California," he said. "On the other hand, the stock market seems to have bottomed out.

"It's impossible to predict the stock market or the weather, and both are major issues in predicting the direction of the economy in the near term," Schniepp said. "It could change for the better or for the worse, or the two effects could neutralize each other."

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