Jobless rate up in Merced County

County's joblessness fourth-worst in state

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comDecember 21, 2012 

— Farm jobs in Merced County plummeted from October to November, spiking the county's unemployment to 15.7 percent from a revised 14.6 percent.

But a drop in farm labor is normal for this time of year, said Pedro Vargas, a labor market analyst for the Employment Development Department. He said the trend probably will continue through January.

The loss of farm jobs, which totaled 2,100, isn't that different from dips in recent years.

From October to November last year, farm jobs dropped by 2,000, Vargas said. In 2010, they were down by 2,600.

The most recent numbers have Merced as the fourth-worst county in California for employment. Out of a labor force of 109,400, 17,200 are unemployed.

But there is some good news in the most recent numbers, he added.

Nonfarm employment picked up by 300 jobs, and Vargas expects retail activity to continue its upward trend next month based on past data and what he's heard from retailers.

"There's definitely an upside," he said.

Earlier this month, several local managers and store owners reported increased consumer activity this Christmas season compared with a year ago.

In Atwater, sales tax makes up an important part of the city's revenue, said Mayor Joan Faul. While many other cities have seen that figure decline, Atwater's is increasing because of the additions of several major retailers, such as Tractor Supply, Big 5 and a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Faul hopes the upward trend in retail activity will continue to help the economy and spur job growth in the area.

"Anything that will help increase our revenue," she said.

Despite accounts of recent stimulation to the economy, Merced County is still far above the state's unemployment average of 9.6 percent and the national unemployment rate of 7.4 percent during the same time frame.

In November, unemployment rates were 15.5 percent in the city of Merced, 16 percent in Atwater, 16.5 percent in Los Banos and 18.1 percent in Livingston.

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

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