Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Strong job growth reported, more expected locally


By Matthew Bunk

FAIRFIELD -- More jobs were created in the Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa corridor in August, and the hiring pace for the rest of the year should remain strong, according to two separate employment surveys released Monday.

Statewide, the unadjusted unemployment rate dropped nearly a point to 5.7 percent in August from 6.5 percent in July, according to a monthly report by the state Employment Development Department.

The nation's economy added 144,000 jobs in August, but it was lower than expectations. The increase in jobs fell short of the 150,000 that economists expected. Experts say monthly gains of 150,000 are needed just to keep pace with growth in the work force. Job gains for June and July were revised to add 59,000, but the totals remained lackluster.

The national unemployment rate, a figure that includes only those actively seeking employment, dropped from 5.5 percent in July to 5.4 percent in August. It was the lowest jobless rate since October 2001, although it edged down because 152,000 workers dropped out of the labor market last month.

Unemployment dipped much more significantly in Solano and Napa counties. The unadjusted jobless rate in Solano County fell to 5.3 percent, the lowest point since Sept. 2002. Napa's rate was 3.9 percent.

In the Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa corridor, which includes cities along Interstate 80 in Solano and Napa counties, employers added 200 non-farm jobs in August. Despite losses in government and hospitality sectors, the area ramped up on growth in manufacturing, professional and business services, educational and health services, and trade, transportation and utilities.

Though none of the growing industries expanded significantly, it was enough to continue upward movement that began earlier this year. But it followed a down trend that sucked up a lot of jobs and leaves the area with only 100 more jobs than were around in August 2003.

The hiring pace for the rest of the year should be consistent with the past two quarters, which had only minimal growth but were improved from the same periods a year earlier, according to Manpower Employment Outlook survey for Solano and Napa counties.

From October to December, 23 percent of the companies interviewed plan to hire more employees, while none intend to reduce their workforce, according to Manpower spokesperson Greg Gardner. Another 44 percent expect to maintain their current staff levels and 33 percent are not certain of their hiring plans.

"The employment outlook for Solano and Napa Counties is slightly weaker than the third quarter forecast when 33 percent of the companies interviewed intended to take on more staff, while 7 percent planned to decrease head count," said Gardner.

Of the 16,000 U.S. employers surveyed, 28 percent plan to add staff before 2005, while 7 percent expect to reduce their payrolls. Sixty percent said they anticipate no change, and 5 percent were unsure of their hiring plans.

The Scripps Howard News Service contributed to this report.

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or mbunk@dailyrepublic.net.

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