Economy improves while high unemployment continues
Maria Condit gets directions from Arbor instructor Amelia Tadeo during a vocational training workshop. (ALEJANDRO DAVILA)
Imperial County has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, even as this figure retreated from 32.5 percent in August to 28.9 percent in October, according to the latest report by the state Employment Development Department.
That statement holds no news for most people in a community that in two decades have witnessed the unemployment rate well above the state’s average without dropping below double digits.
Agricultural counties similar to Imperial County tend to have high unemployment, said economist James Gerber, director of the international business program at San Diego State University.
“But nothing like you see in Imperial County,” he said.
In July 1992 the county faced a record 40.6 percent unemployment, according to the EDD’s Web site. The state’s average was 9.8 percent.
It took a decade for the county’s unemployment rate to be at its lowest at 11.6 percent, according to the report, but even then it almost doubled the state’s 6.9 percent.
“Things are really bad in the United States,” said Kimberly Collins, an economist who ran the California Center for Border and Regional Economic Studies at SDSU-Imperial Valley campus.
People in many areas of the state are losing their jobs and going back home, she said, and home might be the Imperial Valley. This situation increases the number of unemployed people in the county, Collins said.
But the unemployment rate is not completely accurate, Gerber said. There are methodological flaws when the formula used to calculate the rate is applied to a work force that crosses an international border, he said.
“Obviously many Imperial Valley workers don’t live in Imperial Valley — they live in the Mexicali Valley,” said Enrique Rovirosa, former president of the School of Economics of Mexicali.
Because of the lack of jobs in the county many workers stopped crossing, are getting jobs in Mexicali and are counted as unemployed in Imperial County, Rovirosa said.
How many workers are doing this is unclear because nobody is recording this data, Rovirosa said.
In Imperial County, “the unemployment (rate) is an artificial artifact,” Gerber said.
“At the deepest point of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the unemployment rate in the United States hit 25 percent,” Gerber wrote in a recent study called “Income and Economy in Imperial County.”
“At this rate of unemployment, bread lines form, new construction stops, no new investment occurs, retail shops are boarded up,” the study reads.
Even with a 30 percent unemployment rate, construction continues in Imperial County, Gerber said.
Another factor behind the high unemployment is that the county has a significant agricultural sector that only requires seasonal labor, Gerber said.
Not only that, county residents also have on average less education compared to the rest of the state, he said, and that affects unemployment as well.
Only 11.9 percent of county residents over 25 years of age hold a bachelor’s or higher form of degree, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.