Merced County's unemployment rate dropped slightly in May, mirroring the state and nation.
That's according to the results of a monthly survey released by the state's Employment Development Department (EDD).
Despite the drop -- mainly because of seasonal farm labor -- the county's unemployment rate remained higher than a year ago. That shows that the local economy has yet to rebound from the economic turmoil caused by the housing bubble and financial crisis, according the EDD and economic analysts.
"It's lower than last month, but still unpleasantly high," said Pedro Vargas, Merced's labor market analyst for the EDD.
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In May, Merced County's unemployment rate was 18.1 percent compared to 19.8 percent in April. In other words, nearly 20,000 people in Merced County were unemployed in May. That's roughly one-fifth of the working population.
Despite the drop, the unemployment rate in May remained higher than a year earlier, which recorded a rate of 16.3.
Merced County posted the fourth worst unemployment rate in the state in May, after Yuba, Sutter and Imperial counties.
In comparison to Merced County, the state's unemployment rate saw a minuscule drop from April to May from 12.5 to 12.4 percent.
The nation's May rate was 9.7 percent.
Aside from the 2,400 farm-related jobs created in May, the county saw 500 new nonfarm jobs created. Three hundred were in government and two hundred in the private sector, said Vargas.
The unemployment picture varied widely across the county. Hilmar-Irwin had the county's lowest rate of 9.5 percent, while South Dos Palos had the highest with 42.2 percent.
Unemployment in Merced and the Valley is higher for a number of reasons particular to the area. And these factors haven't helped the area begin its recovery, according to an analyst from the University of the Pacific. "We're very much in an economic slump here in the Valley," said Jeffrey Michael, director of the University of the Pacific's Business Forecasting Center.
Despite the small drop in unemployment, the Valley is still far from recovery, said Michael. The small decline in unemployment in Merced County and across the Valley was mainly because of census jobs and seasonal farm employment, he said.
In many parts of the Valley, said Michael, unemployment rates are still equal to or higher than the highest rates recorded in recent history.
One of the reasons the Valley still lags in job creation and economic growth is because of the still-moribund housing market, said Michael. While other areas in the state are experiencing a modest improvement in the housing market, the Valley, and Merced in particular, is still being hit hard by foreclosures and high vacancy rates, he said.
Another major reason the Valley's unemployment seems to always lag behind the rest of the state is the high percentage of young adults in the population, said Michael. Every year the Valley has a higher rate of new workers entering the labor market than other parts of the state. These young workers add to the labor force and increase unemployment.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209)385-2484 or email@example.com.