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Jobless Rate Up Again in Ventura County

The number of unemployed people in July, about 23,300 or 5.5%, is still below state and national figures.

August 09, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County's unemployment rate increased slightly in July, the seventh straight month of job losses compounded by a troubled state economy.

The number of unemployed totaled about 23,300 last month, up 3,800 from June. That pushed the county's jobless rate to 5.5% from 5.2% the previous month.

The local jobless figure remained well below the California rate of 6.9% and the nation's rate of 6.3%. Although seasonal losses are mainly responsible for last month's slide, job growth in the county remains a concern.

Bill Watkins, executive director of UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast, placed much of the blame on the state's economic troubles -- an unresolved deficit, higher workers' compensation rates and the uncertainty of the governor's recall election.

"It doesn't look good for the next six months, that's for sure," Watkins said. "If the economy stays in the doldrums along the coast, you'll continue to see this loss of jobs."

A loss of 1,700 farm jobs, reflecting a typical decline at the end of the harvest season, and 2,100 government jobs, due in large part to the end of the traditional school year, drove county employment down to 294,000 in July compared with 298,200 during the same period last year.

Of local cities, the three with the most farm worker residents had the highest jobless rates: 8.8% in Santa Paula, 7.8% in Oxnard and 7.6% in Fillmore.

In the white-collar east county, Moorpark posted a rate of 4.1% and Thousand Oaks 4.6%, while in the west county, Ventura's rate was 4.3% and Ojai's 2.8%.

Seven months of consecutive job losses may seem more dramatic because the county had an unsustainable five-year explosion of job creation, said Mark Schniepp, director of California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara.

From 1997 to 2001, the number of total jobs, including farm employment, increased from 260,000 to 299,000. Last year the number of total jobs was basically unchanged.

"It's going to be very difficult to ever get back to that," Schniepp said.

"We shouldn't consider that normal. If people consider that a standard, they are going to be disappointed."

There was some good news in the July report. The county's 5.5% unemployment rate was a slight improvement over the 5.7% rate recorded at the same time last year.

Several job categories also showed year-to-year gains.

The retail sector, including clothing and general merchandise stores, was up 1,100 workers, while educational and health services added 1,000 employees. And the number of state educational workers doubled to 400 as Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo prepared for expanded course offerings this fall.

Schniepp said the potential for new leadership in Sacramento could also enhance the state's business climate and help improve the economy.

"If someone [new] is elected, like Arnold [Schwarzenegger], that sort of gives us a whole fresh start. There's a certain confidence-building that would take effect," he said. "Arnold's initial remarks relied heavily on restoring business to California and making it a more business-friendly state.

"That could revitalize, at least from a confidence standpoint, business conditions. So it could be good. I don't see how it could be any worse."

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