MERCED — Although Merced County's unemployment rate remained in the teens last month, it showed significant improvement Friday falling well below where it was in May 2012.
The unemployment rate in Merced for May was 13.6 percent, according to numbers released by the Employment Development Department.
That's a drop of 3.2 percentage points from the previous year when unemployment was 16.8 percent. The rate in May also is an improvement from 15.4 percent for the previous month.
Officials see it as another sign that the economy throughout the region is recovering after several brutal years following the collapse of the housing market and the recession.
Unemployment in the area typically falls in the late spring and early summer thanks to the farming and associated food manufacturing seasons.
While unemployment rates can fluctuate dramatically from month-to-month, a big drop from the previous year is considered a strong indicator of economic improvement by experts.
"The improvement in the unemployment rate stands out," said Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. "The rate normally comes down this time of year, but this is more than normal."
Mark Hendrickson, director of commerce, aviation and economic development for Merced County, said the recent numbers are a positive indicator of economic recovery.
"It's always welcome news when we hear that more Merced County residents are finding employment," Hendrickson said. "It means that the economy is starting to show signs of sustained improvement."
Hendrickson said the agricultural industry continues to serve as a catalyst for the regional economy, as well as a recent increase in manufacturing jobs.
"From a county perspective, we are seeing more economic development interest than in recent years," he said. "We are giving more tours to prospective companies, which seems to suggest the economy is showing fairly decent signs of improvement."
The unemployment picture is also improving statewide.
California's unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent in May from 9 percent in April, hitting its lowest level since November 2008.
The state's labor force grew by nearly 19,000 people, a signal that the labor market is absorbing new job seekers.
Employment conditions also are improving in neighboring counties.
Stanislaus County saw its lowest unemployment rate in almost five years this May. The jobless rate dropped to 12.2 percent, down from a revised 13.3 percent in April and 15.2 percent in May 2012, according to the EDD.
Those numbers are expected to continue to improve with the announcement earlier this week that Amazon had begun hiring for what many expect to be some 1,000 jobs to staff its new Patterson fulfillment center.
Amazon announced on Wednesday that it has begun to hire for the hundreds and hundreds of warehouse floor positions that will help pick, pack and ship products for the retail giant.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or email@example.com.