The recession’s impact remains strong in Orange County, according to a report released Tuesday that shows county residents still are suffering from high unemployment rates and expensive housing costs.

The 2012 Community Indicators Report, published each year since 2000, also found some improvement in personal income, a more stable housing market and local gains in international trade with Mexico, Canada, China, Japan and South Korea.

The report is published by the county in partnership with the Children and Families Commission of Orange County and the Orange County Business Council.

It tracks a number of trends throughout the county and compares them with similar regions nationally and in California as well as with neighboring counties.

“As Orange County begins to emerge from the lingering recession, modest improvements are appearing on the economic horizon,” the report said. “If Orange County residents are feeling relief from the economic slump, it is not yet appearing in indicators of poverty or housing security among children, families or seniors.”

Among issues highlighted in the report:

  • Orange County dropped to 109th of 200 metropolitan areas ranked nationally by Forbes magazine as “2011 Best Places for Business,” a decline of 30 slots since 2010. It was Orange County’s worst ranking in more than 10 years, according to the report, which blamed 2010 employment figures for the drop. The report predicted that stronger local employment in 2011 will raise the Forbes ranking next year.
  • The average household size in the county is 2.97 people, putting the county in the higher ranks nationwide in household size and larger than both the state and national average. Statewide household size averaged 2.89 and nationally 2.59. Santa Ana has the county’s highest household size, 4.43, placing it 11th in the nation. According to the 2010 American Community Survey, 59 percent of the county’s occupied housing units were owner-occupied while 41 percent were renter-occupied.
  • Per capita income dropped 5.5 percent in 2009, down to $49,020 from $51,877 in 2008. The report predicted Orange County will follow the national trend and show an increase in 2010.
  • The cost of living was the third highest among similar national and state areas due to high housing prices, according to the report. Lower per capita income and higher cost of living “translates to less discretionary income than areas where income and cost of living are more aligned, less disposable income for consumer purchases, a reduced ability to pay off debt, and lower wealth creation over time,” the report stated.
  • The second half of 2011 showed a growth in employment, ending with 1.47 million county jobs, the second highest number of jobs in the state. But the report found that between 2005 and 2010, the only businesses that grew were those with zero to four employees. Those jobs were up nine percent. In 2010, only 16 percent of Orange County workers were employed by firms with more than 500 employees. The state average was 21 percent. Large firms also experienced the most significant employment losses between 2005 and 2010, a drop of 32 percent. The unemployment rate remained high at 7.8 percent in December 2011, but that was an improvement over the high of 10 percent in 2010 and better overall than the state and national averages.
  • Tourist spending in 2010 was $8.66 billion, up from $8.04 billion in 2009. But tourism-related jobs dropped by 329 positions between 2009 and 2010, and the average 2010 tourism-sector job paid an annual salary of $22,151.
  • Housing prices have slowly stabilized from their January 2009 lows. As of July 2011, the county median price of $551,510 was about $260,000 more than the state’s median price for a comparable single-family, detached home. The report observed, however, that “Orange County remains the most expensive market among California peers and neighbors.” It estimated a worker would need to earn $26.62 an hour in 2012 or $55,360 a year to afford renting a one-bedroom unit. “A minimum-wage worker must work 133 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom unit at fair market rent in Orange County,” the report said.

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