O.C. jobless rate lowest in nearly 5 years

Construction, tourism help boost May employment figures.

Orange County’s economy showed steady improvement in May, as the unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent following a seasonal boost in tourism employment and a growth in housing-related construction.

The rate was the lowest in nearly five years, down from a peak of 9.9 percent in January 2010. The number of unemployed workers in the county declined to 89,200 from 120,800 a year ago, according to California’s Employment Development Department.

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Alexander Stephenson of Yorba Linda fills out a job application at the 2013 Anaheim/OC Job Fair and Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center on Wednesday. More than 200 employers talked to prospective employees during the event.

“This is the kind of growth we have been waiting for,” said Cal State Fullerton economist Anil Puri. “Given the depth of the recession, this is quite respectable.”

He noted, however: “We are far from getting back to where we were before the recession. That will take a year to a year and a half. Nationally, this recovery has been very weak, but it is starting to fall into place.”

California’s unemployment rate dipped to 8.6 percent, down from 10.7 percent a year ago. That drop was the steepest of any state’s. California’s unemployment rate remains the fifth highest in the nation, tied with New Jersey, and below Nevada, Illinois, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Nationally, the May unemployment rate stood at 7.6 percent.

Orange County’s rapidly recovering housing market drove a sharp growth in hiring at construction companies and financial and mortgage businesses.

More than 5,000 job-seekers thronged an employment fair this week at the Anaheim Convention Center. Southern California Pipe Trades union locals manned a booth offering apprenticeships for steamfitters, plumbers and pipefitters.

“I’m looking for pipe welders,” Carl Ritola, an organizer for Local 582 of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters in Santa Ana, told a line of job-seekers with resumes in hand. “It’s hard work.”

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