Times Staff and Wire Reports

Orange County Jobless Rate Drops: Orange County schools and home builders added thousands of employees to their payrolls during February, helping to reduce unemployment to 5.1%, the third-lowest rate in the state. The big job increases were seasonal--this month's rains, for instance, are likely to show up as reduced construction employment in the March job tally. But economists said they show that the local economy is prospering despite the county government's $1.7-billion investment loss and subsequent bankruptcy last year. The county's jobless rate fell from 5.4% in January and is a huge improvement over the 6.7% rate reported for February, 1994. It compares to a statewide February unemployment rate of 8.1% and a national rate of 5.9%. Only Marin County, at 4.5%, and San Mateo County, at 4.6%, had a better employment picture.

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