Seasonal Hirings Help Push Jobless Rate to New Low

Times Staff Writer

With the help of seasonal hirings in agriculture, public schools and service firms, Orange County's jobless rate dropped to a record low of 3.5% in February, according to statistics released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

The February figures give Orange County the lowest unemployment rate of any county in Southern California for the 13th consecutive month. The previous record low for the jobless rate was 3.6%, which was posted in November, 1978. The jobless rate inched down to 3.7 % for the third time last December, when retail stores hired more people for the holidays. As expected, the biggest drop in employment for February occurred in retail, which declined to 203,800 last month from 205,700 in January.

Orange County has had the lowest jobless rate in Southern California for a long time, according to Alta Yetter Gale, a labor market analyst with the EDD in Santa Ana. But Gale cautioned that the jobless rate fluctuates because county unemployment figures are not seasonally adjusted.

"The rate is not expected to hold that low. There is a bit of fluctuation from month to month," Gale said.

About 45,800 county residents were unemployed in February, down from 52,500 in January and 54,500 a year ago. Agricultural jobs accounted for 2,300 of the monthly job gain, increasing to 8,700 from 6,400 in January. The agricultural jobs are expected to peak in May and June, Gale said.

Other seasonal hirings were in service firms, which reported a net employment increase of 1,700 for February, from the 260,000 employees in January. The big jump in government employment, which increased from 114,900 in January to 116,600, occurred in state and local jobs that included public school hirings.

Orange County's electronics industries laid off 600 employees, dropping the total jobs in that sector to 62,700 in February from 63,300 in January.

As of February, Orange County had a total labor force of 1,300,400. The EDD has compiled unemployment figures since January, 1974. The highest unemployment rate for the county occurred in June, 1975, when it reached 10.6% because of the recession brought on by the OPEC oil embargo.

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