Merced County jobless rate drops

Most August to September gains come from farm labor

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comOctober 20, 2012 

Merced County's unemployment rate is still trending downward, dropping to 14.5 percent in September from a revised 15.8 percent in August.

Total jobs in the county grew by 1,600, which is up 2.3 percent from August to September, said Pedro Vargas, a labor market analyst for the Employment Development Department.

Most of the gains came from farm labor, which posted an increase of 1,200 jobs, he noted.

Though the gain is a positive one, Vargas said it's a little lower than the past two years, which each had gains of about 1,300 agriculture jobs from August to September.

Still, this year's farm-job gain is far more than that of 2006, when 300 were lost in the same time frame, he said.

Vargas pointed out that government and construction jobs posted increases of 800 and 200, respectively.

However, other industries shrank, such as manufacturing, which lost 200 jobs.

Vargas said he's hopeful hiring numbers will pick up soon with retail jobs spurred through economic activity from Halloween, Black Friday and Christmas.

In September, unemployment rates were 14.4 percent in the city of Merced, 14.8 percent in Atwater, 16.8 percent in Livingston and 15.3 percent in Los Banos.

Out of a work force of 109,100, 15,800 are unemployed in the county.

Merced is still the third-worst county in California in terms of unemployment, state figures show. Marin County has the lowest unemployment at 5.8 percent, while Imperial County has the highest unemployment at 28.5 percent for August.

In that same period, California's jobless rate dropped to 9.7 percent from 10.4 percent and the national unemployment rate dropped to 7.6 percent from 8.2 percent.

But as unemployment rates drop, underemployment is still a central concern for many looking at the condition of the work force.

The underemployment rate combines unemployed people, workers who are employed part-time, but would like to work full-time, and people who've dropped out of the labor force, but still want a job.

From August to September, that figure held steady at 14.7 percent for the United States, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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