Jobless Rate Rises, but Nonfarm Work Surges : Economy: Some say increase in nonagricultural sector is mainly in low-wage service positions.

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Ventura County's unemployment rate rose a percentage point in November, but many job losses resulted from the seasonal slow-down in agriculture, and nonfarm employment hit its highest level in five years.

The state's Employment Development Department reported Friday that the county's jobless rate increased to 8.5% last month, compared with 7.5% in October and in November of last year.

Despite the jump in the unemployment rate, analysts were encouraged by economic figures showing that nonfarm sectors had posted 237,300 jobs, the highest number since December 1990.

"If we look at just these numbers, it would seem that things are improving," said Margaret Platt, a state labor market analyst. "We are seeing a continuing expansion in most industries. The unemployment rate has been, for most of this year, lower than the year before."

Ventura County recorded a higher jobless rate for November because a surge in unemployed farm workers and overall growth in the labor force outpaced the 5,500 jobs added to the county's economy since 1994.

Though the county had 1,300 more nonfarm jobs in November than in the previous month, the increase came mainly in service jobs including low-wage security, maintenance and temporary positions.

Meanwhile, 200 manufacturing jobs left the county in November, bringing the total loss of such jobs to 700 since November 1994. High-paying, high-tech jobs increased by 100 to 9,200 in November, but that number was still 200 lower than the same time last year.

Jamshid Damooei, a Cal Lutheran University economics professor, said he sees disturbing trends.

"The structure of the economy is not changing for the better," Damooei said. "It is changing from high-paid [manufacturing-type jobs], to lower-paid service jobs. You may get an increase in your actual number of people employed, but it is a mixed bag."

Damooei said the shift is part of a national trend and fears it is a sign that the recession continues to linger.

Yet Damooei said the fact that construction jobs had increased by 1,100 since November 1994 suggests that the real estate market is beginning to rebound.

"My guess is that we have quite a bit of commercial development going on," Damooei said.

As expected, the county's seasonal farm employment dropped sharply in November, with 4,700 fewer jobs than in the previous month.

Al Guilin, an agricultural consultant and a former executive with citrus giant Limoneira Co., said the layoffs stem mainly from the end of the harvest and packing season.

But agricultural employment actually increased by 1,300 jobs since November 1994, a rise Guilin attributes in part to better growing conditions than last year.

Retailers added 600 new jobs in November, but analysts say many are probably holiday positions that will end shortly after the new year.

"The smaller shops typically hire one or two additional support staff," said Donna Farrell, general manager of The Esplanade mall in Oxnard. "There typically are more hires because of the seasonal employment for the holidays."

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