After declining for 5 months in a row, the county’s unemployment rate rose slightly in January, to 3% from 2.5% in December, the state Employment Development Department reported Monday.
Even with the increase, the county continued to boast one of the lowest rates in the state, trailing only Alpine County’s 2.7% and San Mateo County’s 2.9%. The national rate was 5.4% in January.
In January, 1988, the jobless rate was 2.9% in Orange County.
The county’s unemployment rate had steadily fallen from a 1988 high of 3.5% in July. State officials attributed much of the decline to new hires by state and local governments, school districts and educational agencies.
In January, about 1,330,600 people held jobs in the county, down slightly from 1,342,000 in December, state employment analyst Connie Lau said. At the same time, about 41,400 eligible workers were jobless, contrasted with 33,600 the previous month.
Unemployment rates normally increase every January, Lau said, because temporary workers hired to work during the holiday season in the retail, tourism and restaurant industries are laid off.
Essmael Adibi, director of the Center for Economic Research at Chapman College in Orange, predicted that the number of jobs created in the first quarter this year will be 2.5% to 3% higher than those created during last year’s fourth quarter.
He said many of those gains will be made in light manufacturing, wholesale trade, services, real estate, insurance and finance.
“If the unemployment rate increases, that does not mean that employment growth is disappearing,” Adibi said.
Most economists agree that an unemployment rate below 4% represents virtually full employment. A zero unemployment rate is almost impossible to achieve, they say, because there are always a certain number of people between jobs.