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County Jobless Figure Holds Steady at 4.4% : But EDD Analysts See New Layoffs on Horizon

Times Staff Writer

Following a two-month tailspin, the Orange County unemployment rate leveled off at 4.4% for August, the same rate as for July, according to figures released Thursday by the state’s Employment Development Department.

But trouble may be just around the bend, department analysts say.

New layoffs, particularly in the defense sector, are expected over the next few months. And even as the unemployment rate appears to be stabilizing, slowed economic growth nationally will take a toll here by bumping up the local unemployment rate for 1986, according to the department’s most recent projections.

Officials project a 4.5% unemployment rate for 1986, up from the projected full-year rate of 4.2% for 1985. The county’s jobless rate for 1984 was 4.3%.

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(Orange County unemployment figures are not adjusted for seasonal variations, as are national figures, sometimes providing for wider month-to-month swings.)

Expected layoffs at both manufacturing and R&D; firms will likely jack up the county’s employment rate in both September and October, the department said. And while the number of employed county residents has exceeded the 1 million mark for six consecutive months, that string is expected to end next month amid new layoffs.

Department analysts are also saying that monthly jobless rates below 4% in Orange County may be a thing of the past. Although the rate dipped below 4% from February through May, it has jumped since then and will likely remain that way. “We may not see rates below 4% for some time,” said Alta Yetter, the department’s labor market analyst.

During August, the number of residents seeking employment fell to 57,700, down about 700 the month before but up 2,100 from a year ago.

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No matter what the percentage of unemployed,” Yetter said, “each person who has lost a job feels it 100%.”

But the real unemployment tale is told not in percentages but in actual numbers of people. In that vein, the department projects that the average monthly number of county residents looking for jobs will jump to 59,500 in 1986, compared to 55,700 in 1984.

Still, there were a few bright signs in August. Jobs in the construction industry advanced by 1,300 compared to the month before. Over the past year, 3,600 new construction jobs have been added countywide to a record 51,000 and an annual growth rate of 7.6%.

Also, a slight upturn was recorded in local manufacturing employment.

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