“I’m trying to do my best to survive,” she said.
She’s applies for work anywhere she goes, but it’s hard in the unemployed work force, she said. She’s now hoping to get a job in retail during the holidays, anything she can to survive.
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Ruiz’s story is not unusual in the county that has gained nationwide recognition as having the highest unemployment. But the rate hasn’t always been as high as 30 percent.
The unemployment rate has fluctuated from more than 40 percent to near 10 percent throughout the past two decades, according to data from the state Employment Development Department.
There were peak numbers that reflect current rates nearing 30 percent from 1992 to 1996 before it gradually declined to below 15 percent, according to the data. Following a period of stable numbers in the early 2000s, it shot up again in 2009 to hit high numbers again.
The most recent unemployment data show 29.3 percent of people in the county’s labor force were unemployed in October, according to the data released Friday.
That may be a good sign, said Director of Workforce Training Office Sam Couchman. The data from October show fewer people unemployed than a year ago, which may be a signal that the economy is getting a little better. The unemployment rate has fallen before, but it’s a very slow process, he said.
There was a lot of growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s with housing developments going up and many people moving here, he said. The labor force swelled more than 25,000 people since 1990.
Then the economy tanked and the growth ground to a halt, he said.
The unemployment rate has since been shifting back and forth, but it has gone down this year, Couchman said. The unemployment rate acts as an indicator for trends in employment and is also used by the federal government to determine how much to put into unemployment benefits.
It can also be used by businesses to determine whether there are people that can be hired or how much money may be in the economy to spend, he said.
The unemployment rate is not the only indicator of the quality of life, Couchman said. There are parks, lots of space for renewable energy and a good, small-town feel.
“There are some real positive things,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life and this is where I want to live.”
Some don’t feel quite as hopeful.
Jesus Martinez has seen firsthand how the economic downturn has affected the local economy.
The 34-year-old Heber resident lost his job in construction more than a year ago because there just isn’t work out there, he said. Since then he’s often gone to the Employment Development Department office in El Centro looking for new job postings and possibly a new future.
“There’s been a lot of people looking for jobs, but they don’t find jobs,” he said.