MERCED -- Merced County's unemployment rate was up again at the start of the year, but the figures, which are traditionally high around this time, have shown improvement over 2012.
The unemployment rate increased to 18.4 percent in January from a revised 16.7 percent in December, according to state data released Friday. January's jobless rate still falls below where it was at a year ago -- 19.7 percent.
Pedro Vargas, a labor market analyst for the Employment Development Department, said the increase in the unemployment rate from December to January can be attributed to losses in seasonal farm and retail jobs.
It's common for retailers who hire seasonal workers for the Christmas shopping rush to post a cutback in jobs around this time, Vargas explained.
While several industries showed job losses from December to January, many showed an increase in hiring from January 2012 through January 2013, according to state data. During that time frame, about 2,700 jobs were created locally.
"Between January 2012 and January 2013, we look pretty good, actually," Vargas said. "That's all good news. The bad news is seasonal."
Atwater City Councilman Larry Bergman said he's not concerned with the dip in employment from December to January since those were seasonal jobs, but he's optimistic by the improvements made throughout 2012.
"To me, that's somewhat encouraging," he said.
Out of California's 58 counties, Merced is the fourth-worst in terms of unemployment, data show, though. The worst unemployment rate comes from Colusa County at 27.7 percent, while the best employment figures come from Marin County, which has a jobless rate of 5.8 percent.
Out of a 113,800-person work force in Merced County, 20,900 are unemployed.
In January, unemployment rates totaled 18.2 percent in Merced City, 18.7 percent in Atwater, 19.3 percent in Los Banos and 21.1 percent in Livingston.
California's unemployment was 10.4 percent, while the national unemployment rate was 8.5 percent during the same time period, according to EDD information.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.