October jobless numbers edge up

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comNovember 17, 2012 

— While overall job growth has picked up in Merced County and across the state, the unemployment rate showed a slight increase in October from September, according to the figures released Friday by the state.

In Merced County, unemployment jumped to 14.7 percent in October from a revised 14.4 percent in September, the state Employment Development Department reported.

During the same period, California's unemployment increased to 9.8 percent from 9.7 percent.

In October, California posted an increase of 45,800 nonfarm jobs while Merced posted an additional 600 nonfarm jobs.

Despite the increased unemployment rate, the recent job growth is a good sign for the economy, said Pedro Vargas, a labor market analyst for the EDD.

"A lot of it has to do with the teachers coming back to work and other people who work in the educational setting," said Vargas, who added that a bump in seasonal retail hiring could help future numbers.

But as was the case last year, unemployment will likely creep up from now until January because of a loss of farm jobs, Vargas noted. From September to October, 200 farm jobs were lost in Merced County.

The recent numbers have Merced as the fourth-worst county in California in terms of unemployment. Out of a labor force of 110,100, 16,200 are jobless.

Though it may seem strange for the unemployment rate in Merced County to be up in the midst of job growth, EDD spokesman Kevin Callori explained that the job figures are based on payroll data while the unemployment rate includes those who apply for benefits as well as household surveys.

The result is a more comprehensive picture of local unemployment.

In October, unemployment rates were 14.5 percent in the city of Merced, 15 percent in Atwater, 17 percent in Livingston, 8.4 percent in Gustine, 19.9 percent in Dos Palos and 15.4 percent in Los Banos, according to state data.

The national jobless rate for the same period was 7.5 percent.

Benefits may run out

A steady flow of people continue to file for unemployment benefits, but for many already on the program, their assistance may run out soon.

The EDD estimates that about 400,000 Californians could experience an end to their government assistance at the end of the year.

The federal extensions to unemployment benefits allowed an additional 73 weeks, but unless the Congress takes action to extend those benefits again, they'll stop after the week ending on Dec. 29, Callori said.

Assistance will end for all those who've had their benefits extended, even if they still have a remaining balance on their federal extension claim, he noted.

State unemployment benefits total 26 weeks on a regular claim, Callori said. Anything beyond that span was from federal extensions.

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

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