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Ventura County

County's Jobless Rate Dips in September

Economy: The 5.7% is just under August's figure and compares with 6.1% statewide.

October 12, 2002|GREGORY W. GRIGGS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hiring at local restaurants, expanding government payrolls and more people working in the real estate, finance and insurance industries helped lower Ventura County's jobless rate to 5.7% last month.

This was down from a revised 5.8% in August, but higher than a 5.3% jobless rate in September 2001, according to a monthly report released Friday by the state Employment Development Department. This compares with 6.1% unemployment in California and 5.4% for the nation last month, without seasonal adjustments.

"A year ago, it was the all-time lowest September [unemployment rate] in the history of record keeping. So we're just off the record low," said Mark Schniepp, director of the California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara.

From August to September, 2,700 jobs were created in Ventura County, with local education making up all of the month-to-month increase as teachers returned to the classroom. This represented a 0.9% increase, to 301,000 jobs.

The county ranks 29th in terms of joblessness among the state's 58 counties. San Luis Obispo had the lowest unemployment in September, at 3.2%, and Santa Barbara County had 3.8%.

Los Angeles and Riverside counties reported a 6.5% unemployment rate. Imperial County had the highest unemployment at 22.1%.

When last month's jobs picture is compared with September 2001, the greatest gains in the county were at eating and drinking establishments, up 600 jobs; state and local government, up 500 positions; and in the 400 jobs created in finance, insurance and real estate--industries benefiting from the area's housing and refinancing boom.

Schniepp said it's not surprising the jobs report reflects more spending at area eateries and pubs.

"Business is still quite vibrant in Ventura County," he said.

"Unemployment is low and people have money coming in. People feel real good when they see how much equity they have in their homes."

But the steady climb in home prices also indicates that demand is far outstripping supply, said Schniepp, adding that such factors are not good for continued job creation. Nearly full employment coupled with job growth of less than 1% suggests there is weakness in the county's labor market.

"You have a major housing crisis that is definitely impacting the labor market here. Employers can't hire because there is no housing for their workers--it's either not available or not affordable."

In another economic report released Friday, home prices were blamed for driving young, middle-income households away from Ventura County.

At a business outlook conference, the first-ever analysis of the county's work force commissioned by the Ventura County Workforce Investment Board maintained the lack of affordable dwellings has led to overcrowding in residences and caused more middle-income families to move to outlying areas to buy a home.

The assessment--prepared by economists at UC Santa Barbara, Cal Lutheran University and Solimar Research in Ventura--said the loss of the middle class creates a "bipolar population," with high-income baby boomers and lower-paid young workers on either side of the divide.

While Ventura County remains relatively affluent, with many high-wage jobs, the report said the other end of the pay spectrum is starkly different. Nearly half of the jobs in the county, 48.1%, pay less than a poverty-level salary, according to the report, while only one-sixth of the county's jobs pay $34,000 or more, which is about twice the poverty level.

The conference at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum was sponsored by the Ventura County Economic Development Assn.

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