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Ventura County

Jobless Rate Up Again in County

September 15, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County unemployment surged for the second straight month and job growth remained stagnant in August, as a troubled national economy and a local housing crisis resulted in a double-dose of bad economic news.

About 24,400 local workers had no jobs last month, up 1,300 from July and 1,900 more than in August of last year. That pushed the county's jobless rate to 5.7% from 5.4% the previous month. That compares with 5.3% for August of 2001.

The local jobless figure, usually low compared with other jurisdictions, matched the nation's rate for the first time in years. But it remained well below the California rate of 6.2%, without seasonal adjustments.

"We've still got a low unemployment rate. It's essentially full employment in Ventura County," said Mark Schniepp, director of California Economic Forecast. "Yet we have [little] job growth. Low unemployment usually accompanies job growth."

That is not occurring in Ventura County or in some other counties in coastal Southern California, Schniepp said, because the cost of buying or renting a house or apartment is so high that some companies are not expanding and some are balking at moving here.

"Housing is the obstruction," he said. "So employers cannot hire, and if they could, people wouldn't take the positions. This is the most important issue we have to address. There's a total housing frenzy still going on."

Because of soaring prices, only about 28% of local households can afford to buy a home in Ventura County, according to California Assn. of Realtors.

Still, except for agriculture, Ventura County's employment picture wasn't gloomy in August.

There were 302,200 total jobs in the county, up 200 from July and 800 from last year at this time.

Farm jobs were off 700 from July and down 1,200 over the last year.

But government employment was up 800 positions, all of that in education as the traditional school year began late in the month in some districts. Construction and retail trades were up 200 each, and manufacturing was up 100.

Of local cities, the three with the most farm worker residents had the highest jobless rates: 9.1% in Santa Paula, 8.1% in Oxnard and 7.8% in Fillmore. The white-collar east county had the lowest rate, with Moorpark's 4.3% the lowest in that area. Ojai, where one-fifth of residents are senior citizens, had a 3.0% rate.

Ventura County's unemployment rate was tied for 28th best of 58 counties in the state, and on par with Southern California, which has weathered the recession far better than the Bay Area.

On Ventura County's flanks, Los Angeles County had a jobless rate of 6.8%, while Santa Barbara County's was 3.5%.

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