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Ventura County Unemployment Rate Improves

But experts say one factor for the drop to 5.5% in September is that people have given up hope of finding a job.

October 12, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County's unemployment rate dropped to 5.5% in September, an improvement over both a revised 5.9% rate in August and a 6.1% rate recorded in September 2002.

The number of people out of work was estimated at 23,300 last month, 6% fewer than the 24,800 who were jobless in August and 11% fewer than the 26,200 unemployed 12 months earlier.

But frustration could be a reason the jobless rate is easing, as more people give up hope of finding work in a sluggish economy or move away.

"People know the market's not good, so they've just stopped looking," said Dan Hamilton, director of economics for the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast. "And when they do, they're no longer counted as unemployed. Maybe they're going back to school or doing something else. They're just not trying to find a job right now."

Such pessimism is understandable, considering that Ventura County has lost jobs each month this year, compared with the same month in 2002.

In September, employers trimmed 6,700 jobs from local payrolls compared with 12 months earlier, with major losses in professional and business services, down 3,300 jobs; construction, off 2,100 positions, and government, which had 900 fewer jobs.

Among the few sectors with gains in September, compared with the same month in 2002, were farm employment, with 300 additional workers; educational services, up 600 jobs, and retail trade, with 800 more jobs.

From February through August, Ventura County lost an average of about 5,000 jobs monthly in year-to-year comparisons, Hamilton said.

Hamilton projects the county will have lost at least 1.5% of its jobs, about 4,500 positions, by the end of 2003 when compared with the year before.

According to the state Employment Development Department, which released its monthly labor report Friday, Ventura County's 5.5% unemployment rate was less than the rest of the state, at 6.1% in September, or the nation, at 5.8%. It placed Ventura County 22nd among the state's 58 counties, while San Luis Obispo County took the top spot with a 3% unemployment rate and Santa Barbara County tied for No. 2 (with Marin County) with 3.5%. The loser, as usual, was Imperial County, which had a jobless rate of 22% in September.

"The good news is that the unemployment rate is not going up ... but the job machine is stalled and will continue to be," said Mark Schniepp, director of the California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara.

He estimates that Ventura County will lose 5,500 to 6,000 jobs by the end of the year, effectively erasing every position created in the past two years.

Schniepp said there would not be a turnaround in job creation until real progress was made on workers' compensation insurance reform. And a lack of housing, especially at prices the average worker can afford, will cause additional major employers to look outside California when it's time to expand operations, he said.

Neither Schniepp nor Bill Watkins, executive director of the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast, believes the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor necessarily portends a swift improvement for the economy.

"He'll only be effective if he can get the Legislature to buy into" his plans to reform state government, Watkins said. "You need a sign that shows the Legislature and the governor, the Republicans and Democrats are working together to create opportunities in California."

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