MERCED — Merced County's unemployment rate dropped in March to 17.2 percent from 17.7 percent in February.
While improvements to the county's employment figures often can be attributed to farm employment, this time it all came from other industries.
Pedro Vargas, a labor market consultant for the Employment Development Department, said the bump in employment was the result of 100 construction jobs, 100 jobs in educational and health services, 200 state government jobs and 100 jobs in trade, transportation and utilities.
The state jobs came from education, he noted.
Professional and business services was the only industry that posted a loss in March, state data show.
Vargas said the local unemployment rate could continue its downward trend as farm work and construction picks up.
"I'm thinking that next month it'll be better because farming is starting to get into full blast now, and we do see a little bit of growth in construction," Vargas said. "Things are looking real good."
Livingston Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra said his city's gotten more inquiries recently about development and he also thinks construction could start picking up.
"I think the economy is definitely on the uptick right now," he said. "If people are inquiring, that means businesses are thinking about doing something."
Samra thinks it might take about five years to get employment back to where it was around 2008, but he said economic indicators are pointing in the right direction.
"Anytime we get people working, it's an encouragement because when those people get up and go to work, they know that they've done something with their day -- it gives them a lot of pride," he said. "It's a really good feeling."
Out of a 112,400-person work force in Merced, 19,400 people are jobless, according to state data.
March's unemployment rates totaled 17.1 percent for the city of Merced, 17.6 percent for Atwater, 18.1 percent for Los Banos and 19.9 percent for Livingston, according to the EDD.
The national unemployment rate was 7.6 percent and the state jobless rate was 9.4 percent for the same period.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or email@example.com.