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Ventura County

Jobless Figures Cause No Anxiety

July 13, 2002|GREGORY W. GRIGGS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The end of the annual strawberry harvest idled thousands of farm workers last month and helped push Ventura County's June unemployment rate to 4.8%, the highest level since January.

But an increase in nonfarm jobs--including gains in government, education, construction and retail employment--added 1,400 workers and offset the agriculture losses of 3,900, for a total countywide decline of 2,500 jobs in June.

Although the jobless rate surged from 4.3% to 4.8% from May to June, it was still better than the 5.5% reported at the beginning of the year.

"You get these seasonal effects that really have no economic meaning," said economist Mark Schniepp, director of the California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara.

"A rate of 4.8% is still considered full employment in Ventura County. What that tells me is that if you want a job, you can get one," Schniepp said.

Comparing last month with June 2001, when unemployment stood at 4.1%, the total number of jobs in the county grew by 900, and 400 of those were in agriculture.

Hiring at Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo, which formally begins offering classes next month, added 200 people to local payrolls in the past year and local schools added 500 more since June 2001. The state picked up 100 new workers and county government expanded by 300 people.

"We seem to be heading in the right direction. We're growing again, although it's slow growth and it's pretty steady," said Schniepp, adding that such gains are amazing "when you consider the lack of housing, especially affordable housing, in the county."

The number of county residents employed here and in other counties was 403,600 last month, up from 399,000 in January. The number of unemployed local residents dropped to 20,400 from 23,300 in January.

Bill Watkins, executive director of UC Santa Barbara's Economic Forecast Project, said Ventura County's economy is "right on track" and that a monthly spike in joblessness is no cause for concern.

"That's about what we expected," Watkins said. "Once it's seasonably adjusted, I don't think you'll see any real increase in unemployment."

The county ranks 14th in terms of joblessness among the state's 58 counties. San Luis Obispo is No. 1 at 3.1% and Santa Barbara County No. 2 at 3.5%. Ventura County's 4.8% rate puts it ahead of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, both at 5.7%, and Los Angeles County at 7.1%.

By comparison, California's unemployment rate in June was 6.4%, and the U.S. rate was 6%, without seasonal adjustments.

Through the end of the year, Watkins said he expects the nation to continue its gradual recovery from a recession that never really touched Ventura County.

Watkins predicted that the Federal Reserve Board will impose a modest interest rate increase before January "but not by much, because the data is not coming in that strong."

A closer look at county unemployment last month shows a wide discrepancy among communities.

In the east county, joblessness ranged from 3.6% in Moorpark to 4% in Thousand Oaks and 4.2% in Simi Valley. But in less affluent west county communities, joblessness reached 6.9% in Oxnard, 7.8% in Santa Paula and 9.4% in El Rio.

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*--* Ventura County Unemployment June Year Jobless workers Jobless rate 2002 20,400 4.8% 2001 17,300 4.1% 2000 18,100 4.4% 1999 17,300 4.4% 1998 19,600 5.1% 1997 23,000 6.0% 1996 24,900 6.6% 1995 26,800 7.0% 1994 27,900 7.3% 1993 33,200 8.8% 1992 31,200 8.3% 1991 24,300 6.6% 1990 18,700 5.0% Source: State Employment Development Department

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