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Jobless Rate for County Tops 5%

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County’s unemployment rate was 5.1% last month, a climb from 4.8% in July, but still lower than the year before, according to a state report issued this week.

The rise comes amid fears that terrorist attacks on America could send the country into recession. Many experts are increasingly concerned that the country is heading into at least a mild recession, but there was disagreement on just how much recent events would precipitate a further slide in Ventura County.

“We were heading toward recession already. We need to understand that,” said Mark Schniepp, director of the Santa Barbara-based California Economic Forecast Project. “Will last week exacerbate it? The likelihood is no.”

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Schniepp said that he suspects the public will perceive the attack as a one-time event and that consumer spending will return to its higher levels. He said the economy has been slowing, but so far Ventura County has been insulated.

“The only effect I can see on Southern California and Ventura County is this uncertainty,” he said. “The further you get away from the scene [in New York], the less it’s going to really affect you.”

Economist Bill Watkins, who heads the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project, said that national weakness could hit Ventura County. Military industries may see an increase in activity, and biotechnology is probably immune, he said. But agriculture may take a hit.

“Strawberries are already weak,” he said. “Retail sales are weakest. You’ll see that fairly quick. People will have less money and [have] less to invest.”

Watkins said he sees the unemployment rate in Ventura County rising to 6% by the end of the year. Unlike Schniepp, he envisions a terrible holiday season because people will still be reeling from the terrorist attacks and the coming war.

There is no question that the economy was already slowing. The year-to-year nonfarm job-growth rate in Ventura County was 1.7%, down from previous months when the growth rate had hovered in the 2% range.

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Nonetheless, the unemployment rate was below the year-ago estimate of 5.5%. Much of the spike from last month can be attributed to seasonal factors--a loss of 900 farm jobs and 2,000 government jobs with the end of summer. Manufacturing already had a loss of 200 jobs.

Employment gains were posted in construction, up by 500 jobs and retail, up by 100 jobs. Total employment during August was 298,000, a decline of 2,400 jobs over the month.

Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., said the next several months will bring uncertainty in various sectors.

“We have to look ahead and say, ‘Where do we go now?’ ” he said. “We don’t know what kind of war this is going to be.”

Kyser speculated that one area that could see a boost is tourism. With increased security and fewer flights, a day or overnight trip to San Francisco is much less convenient.

He suspected that could make Ventura, for instance, a desirable spot for a quick vacation for Southern California residents.

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