Mediha Fejzagic DiMartino, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/29/2010 06:18:51 PM PDT

An economic report issued Wednesday suggests the Inland Empire is leading the pack, but this first place is nothing to brag about.

The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario region registered the highest unemployment rates in August out of the nation’s 49 metropolitan areas with a population of more than 1 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment Summary.

“What this suggests is that we are not out of the woods just yet,” said David Stewart, a dean of UC Riverside’s School of Business Administration.

The Inland Empire region – with an unemployment rate of 14.8 percent – beat out last month’s leader Detroit-Warren-Livonia in Michigan.

But the local numbers may be somewhat magnified, Stewart said. Because of the “odd geography of jobs,” the unemployment rate is frequently based where people live and not where they work.

“We are a bedroom community,” Stewart said. “Jobs lost in other areas count as a loss in San Bernardino or Riverside.”

The region’s job market also had “a slightly higher vulnerability” during the economic boom that set it up for steeper failure, said Cecilia Conrad, an economics professor at Pomona College in Claremont.

“Our jobs were in tied to the public sector, construction and transportation, and the consumer demand has fallen in those areas,” Conrad said.

“What we are seeing is causing people to say, `We have to diversify,”‘ Stewart said.

The local unemployment numbers did not surprise Shanala Datcher of Fontana. The former Universal Studios employee perused a collection of job postings on Wednesday at the Victoria Gardens’ information booth in Rancho Cucamonga.

“I moved here form Burbank seven months ago and I have not been able to find anything since,” Datcher said.

Although the labor bureau’s findings are concerning, they are not necessarily indicative of more doom and gloom, Stewart said.

“The unemployment numbers tend to be lagging when the recovery occurs,” he said. “Until the businesses are confident that recovery is on the way, they tend not to invest in building their labor force. What we will likely see first is an increase in hiring of temporary workers or current workers working more overtime.”

A great deal of employers’ reluctance to hire is related to the upcoming elections, Stewart said.

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