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Ventura County

Nonfarm Job Losses Continue

April marks the fourth consecutive month of industrial employment decline. Ventura County's overall jobless rate dips from March.

May 10, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County's golden economy is beginning to lose its luster as April's 4.8% unemployment rate, released Friday, brought with it a fourth straight month of industrial job losses.

In the 12 months ended April 30, the number of local nonfarm jobs fell 4,700 -- to 275,800 -- with most of the losses coming in high-paying employment categories, such as manufacturing and professional services. Gains and losses in lower-paying jobs were about even.

The April decline follows year-to-year monthly nonfarm job losses ranging from 400 in January to 6,400 in March.

"I continue to be worried," said Dan Hamilton, director of economics for the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast. "We're down again and this is a key month where normally there would be hiring if the economy were growing."

Seasonal hiring at local farms created 300 jobs last month, which provided a modest offset for losses in the industrial sector. Total wage and salary employment in the county was 299,400, down 1.4% from 303,800 in April 2002.

Last month's jobless rate of 4.8% was slightly higher than a 4.6% rate in the same month of 2002 but an improvement over a revised 5% rate in March.

Unless things pick up soon, Hamilton said, the spring hiring season will be over and a major jobs spike would be needed later this year to keep 2003 economic forecasts on track. In its annual forecast for Ventura County, UC Santa Barbara in February predicted 5,400 jobs would be created this year for a total farm and nonfarm work force of 308,650.

But last month the university sliced $200 million from its 2003 estimate for a key measure of the Ventura County economy: gross county product. UC Santa Barbara now predicts the value of all county goods and services will reach $44.7 billion, not $44.9 billion, this year.

"It's a sign that the slowdown that hit the nation about two years ago is now coming to the Ventura County economy," Hamilton said. "What I don't know is how long and how deep it will be, but I'm worried about these numbers."

Ventura County's April jobless picture, however, remains superior to the U.S. rate of 5.8% and California's 6.6%.

And within California, Ventura County remained one of the top counties based on lowest employment rate for a second month. In April, Ventura County was in a three-way tie for ninth place with Placer and Nevada counties, near Lake Tahoe. San Luis Obispo had California's lowest jobless rate, at 3.3%, followed by Santa Barbara County at 3.7%. Los Angeles County, with 6.3%, ranked 21st out of 58 counties.

El Rio continues to be the toughest place in Ventura County for residents to land a job. That Oxnard-adjacent community had an estimated 9.4% unemployment rate in April, the highest of a dozen areas the state measures within the county. Mira Monte near Ojai again had the greatest percentage of people working, with a jobless rate of 2.1% last month.

Mark Schniepp, director of California Economic Forecast, said the recent job losses are no reason to lose faith in the local economy. A three-month trend showing a nearly 2% decline in nonfarm jobs is not troublesome because the unemployment rate continues to fall, he said.

"While we're not creating new jobs, we're not contributing to greater misery in the work force either, because it's not reflected in a higher unemployment rate," Schniepp said. "I mean, 4.8% is pretty low."

Schniepp suggests March and April's job losses may have been the worst of it and that slow but steady local hiring could resume soon. "I'm not looking for any major surge, because we don't have the housing to accommodate that many new workers," Schniepp said, projecting a 1% increase in employment this year, or about 3,000 new jobs.

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