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Ventura County

County Jobless Rate Falls, but So Do Job Totals

Economy: Unemployment for December declines to 5%. There are also 900 fewer positions. One expert says the region 'was due for a hiccup.'

January 12, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County's unemployment rate dropped sharply in December, but the effects of the U.S. recession and statewide downturn were clearly seen as the number of local jobs fell for the first time since 1996.

The county's jobless rate declined from 5.4% in November to 5.0% in December, compared with 5.7% in California and 5.4% nationwide, without seasonal adjustments.

About 20,600 county workers were jobless last month, down from 22,000 in November but much higher than the 16,900 workers without a job in December 2000.

But analysts said the most telling development last month was that total jobs in this affluent coastal county dropped by 900 to 297,700 from November and were 200 below the total from a year before.

"This is the first loss of jobs since July 1996," said economist Mark Schniepp of the California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara. "We've created more jobs every single month for 5 1/2 years. So Ventura County was due for a hiccup."

Particularly important was the year-to-year difference in employment in businesses not related to farming, where jobs rise and fall with the seasons, Schniepp said. Nonfarm jobs were off 1,200 from a year ago.

"We're starting to lose more jobs than we're creating in the nonfarm sector," he said. "This is the weakest employment report from that standpoint that I've seen in many years."

The numbers for one month do not yet indicate a trend, especially since preliminary labor market statistics often change. Schniepp said it would take three months of year-to-year job declines to indicate real trouble.

"And when I look at other indicators, like home sales, home prices, and commercial vacancy rates and construction, I'm not very concerned about Ventura County."

The rate of increase in Ventura County home sales was the highest in Southern California for the first 11 months of 2001, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

Still, the loss of jobs is a concern, said Bill Watkins, director of the Economic Forecast Project at UC Santa Barbara.

"The job loss is concentrated in the durable manufacturing sector, and these are among the better-paying jobs in the county" he said. "It's this sector nationwide that's really depressed, and we're seeing it here. But it's relatively small, less than 10% of the employment base [here]."

Manufacturers of durable goods--such as machinery, industrial equipment, tools and refrigerators--provided 25,800 local jobs in December, 1,200 fewer than the year before.

"My guess is that this is associated with [cutbacks at] Boeing," Watkins said. "You have a bunch of little machine shops here that supply the aviation industry."

Local jobs in the manufacturing of nondurable goods--such as clothes and food--remained stable at 14,500.

Despite the job losses, Ventura County and the Southern California region remained relatively strong compared with the overall California economy.

For example, the unemployment rates in Orange and San Diego counties were the third and fourth best in the state at 3.2% and 3.3%, respectively.

Ventura County's balanced economy produced strong gains in December in retail businesses that hired 700 new workers for the holiday season. Stores selling general merchandise also added 400 new jobs.

The agricultural industry accounted for 1,000 fewer jobs last month, with a total of 19,100, 1,000 more than during December 2000.

About 700 jobs were lost in the business services sector, which Schniepp said reflected the beginning of Kinko's moving its headquarters from Ventura to Texas. Construction employment also lost 200 jobs.

"It will be interesting to see what happens in the next month or two, to see whether this is a trend," said Dan Hamilton, a colleague of Watkins at UCSB. "If it doesn't last, and we still have Baxter and Amgen [biomedical companies] still cranking along, the next few months could look pretty good."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ventura County Unemployment

December, 1987-2001

*--*

Jobless Unemployment Year Workers Rate 2001 20,600 5.0% 2000 16,900 4.1% 1999 17,700 4.4% 1998 20,400 5.2% 1997 20,900 6.0% 1996 25,100 6.6% 1995 27,700 7.3% 1994 27,000 7.1% 1993 29,500 7.9% 1992 34,600 9.3% 1991 27,000 7.3% 1990 25,500 7.0% 1989 17,600 4.8% 1988 16,300 4.6% 1987 15,200 4.5%

*--*

Source: State Employment Development Department

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