Orange County’s local job market recovered some of the positions that were cut at the beginning of the year in February, according to the latest statistics from California's Economic Development Department. But as signs point to an improving economy, jobseekers who had stopped looking for work have resumed their search, contributing to a flat unemployment rate of 8 percent, carried over from January. The county added 9,100 jobs in February; the local economy grew by 18,200 jobs compared to the same time in 2011.
In month-over-month gains, Dr. Wallace Walrod, chief economic advisor to the Orange County Business Council, said he was chiefly struck by the addition of manufacturing jobs. The county added 2,500 positions in manufacturing, a gain he described as “really exceptional.”
“An untold story of Orange County is the strength of manufacturing; we do primarily general manufacturing but we have some specific sectors that are world-class competitive, that would be aerospace, which had good job growth, and medical devices, we are one of the world centers of medical device production,” Dr. Walrod said. “The other thing about manufacturing jobs is that is that they’re very good paying jobs, [which is] good for the general economy, creating ripples throughout the rest of the economy.”
Besides manufacturing, strong month-over-month hiring gains were seen in education and health services, adding 1,900 jobs. Health services accounted for 84 percent of the increase.
The largest hiring gains over January came in the government sector, adding 3,400 positions. Strong hiring in government education, adding 4,100 jobs, and state government education, 300 jobs, helped to offset small losses in local government. Most of these gains, and their attendant effect on the local unemployment rate, can be attributed to teachers returning to work following holiday and semester breaks, Dr. Walrod said.
“We knew the economy was moving forward last month even though the report showed [month-over-month] job losses; that’s borne out this in this month’s report, we gained some of those jobs back,” he said. “Some of those numbers were not only because of the holiday shopping season but because of teachers having holiday breaks, too.”
In long-term growth, signs point to hiring in areas that cater to discretionary spending, an indication that confidence in the economy is returning and consumers are more inclined to spend money on non-necessities.
Leisure and hospitality added the most positions over the same period in 2011, posting a gain of 5,600 jobs. Trade, transportation and utilities followed closely with a gain of 5,300 jobs, with 96 percent of those positions coming from retail.
“Now that we’re seeing jobs created in the economy we’re seeing more jobseekers on the sidelines who weren’t active, come back and look for more work, that’s why the unemployment rate stayed the same at 8 percent,” Dr. Walrod said. “More people who were unemployed previously are now actively looking for work again.”
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