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Local Job Losses Foreseen in 2003

First five months of the year have been weak for employment in Ventura County, prompting a gloomy prediction from one economist.

June 16, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A steady loss of industrial jobs in Ventura County has one area economist predicting that the local workforce will shrink this year.

"When we look at the end of 2003, it will be significantly softer than 2002," said Dan Hamilton, director of economics for the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast. "We're now seeing the impact on jobs from a decline in the production of goods and services sometime in the latter half of 2002. You could say we're now paying the piper."

The number of nonfarm jobs in May declined by 6,600 to 275,800 compared with the same month last year, according to statistics from the state Employment Development Department. When farm employment is considered, the extra 300 people hired last month put the loss at 6,300, a 2.1% decline in jobs from May 2002.

"This has been the most sustained deceleration of employment in Ventura County in more than 10 years," said Mark Schniepp, director of California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara. The county was last hit this hard in July 1992, when about 6,000 jobs were lost in a year-to-year comparison, a drop of 2.6%, he said.

"We're seeing lots of manufacturing jobs disappear and it has gotten worse in Ventura County in the past 12 months or so," Schniepp said. "I don't know if those jobs are going to come back."

Both economists say the May job losses were concentrated in certain industries and were somewhat offset by hiring elsewhere. Unfortunately, several higher-paying sectors experienced significant losses, including professional and business services, which lost 2,700 jobs; manufacturing, down 2,100; and construction, which contracted by 1,300 jobs.

Average total employment for the first five months of 2003 is down 1.5% when compared with the same period last year, Hamilton said. And 12-month comparisons of nonfarm jobs in each month this year show job losses exceeding 4,500 in every month except January, when only 1,900 positions disappeared compared to the first month of 2002.

"No matter how you look at it, it doesn't look good," said Hamilton, who forecasts that Ventura County will lose 2,700 jobs in 2003, a decline of nearly 1%.

After predicting an increase in jobs in 2003 as recently as last month, Schniepp now thinks it will take a rebound later in the year just to avoid losses.

"We're going to be hard-pressed to create 3,000 jobs," he said. "We may have trouble getting back to zero. If we could have a flat year, that would be optimistic."

Overall, Ventura County's jobless rate was 4.7% in May, a slight improvement from a revised 4.9% in April, but higher than the 4.5% recorded in May 2002. The county continues to shine in comparison to the state and nation, which had May unemployment rates of 6.3% and 5.8%, respectively.

"A 4.7% unemployment rate is pretty much full by anyone's textbook measure," Schniepp said. "If you have any skills whatsoever, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding a job."

And a declining workforce has yet to depress consumer spending locally, he added.

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