Merced County’s unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent in May, the first time the rate for the month has been below 10 percent in nearly a decade, labor market analysts reported Friday.
Led by growth in manufacturing and government jobs, May’s unemployment rate was 1.5 percentage points below the 11.2 percent reported in May 2015, noted Steven Gutierrez, labor market consultant with the Economic Development Department.
The county added 1,000 manufacturing jobs and 800 government jobs between May 2015 and last month.
May has not seen such a low unemployment rate for the county since 2007, when it was 9.2 percent. While the county’s unemployment rate dipped below 10 percent in October 2015, last month’s figure marked the first time it has been in the single digits so far this year, Gutierrez said.
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“This is normally the drop we are going to see this time of year,” he said by phone. “The surge of activity in farming and manufacturing will probably continue to add jobs through the summer.”
The growth in manufacturing marked the 11th straight month of job increases in the sector, Gutierrez said. Looking at January-to-May growth, Merced County has added 6,100 manufacturing jobs compared to the same period in 2015.
“Because this is agriculture season,” Gutierrez said, “we see manufacturing increase through the Valley as the crops are being harvested and processed. That fuels that starting in spring and through the end of the season in the late fall and winter.”
Year over year, the county added 800 government jobs, bringing the five-month total to 4,100 over the same period last year.
Last month, educational and health services added 300 jobs, while leisure and hospitality added 200 jobs.
“This is normally a positive period as hotels and restaurants gear up for summer tourism,” Gutierrez said.
Between April and May, farm labor posted a gain of 2,200 jobs, the Economic Development Department said. Month-to-month gains also were seen in manufacturing; education and health services; leisure and hospitality; and mining, logging and construction. Government and transportation and utilities saw small declines.
Despite the improvement, Merced County continues to lag far behind the state average in employment figures. California’s jobless rate dropped a tenth of a percentage point in May, to 5.2 percent, the Employment Development Department reported, the lowest since May 2007.
Merced County reported a labor force of 114,800 people, with 11,200 out of work.
Merced County’s 9.7 percent unemployment rate had it near the bottom of all California counties, placing 55th out of 58. The county tied with Kern County and placed ahead of only Colusa County, with 12.7 percent unemployment, and Imperial, with 19.4 percent.
Nearby, Stanislaus County’s unemployment rate for May was 8 percent; Madera had 8.5 percent; and Fresno had 8.5 percent.
Among the Merced County cities, Le Grand reported the highest rate of unemployment, 17.8 percent. It was followed by South Dos Palos at 15.8 percent; Dos Palos city at 13.8 percent; Winton at 13.6 percent; and Planada at 13.5 percent. The lowest unemployment rate was seen in Hilmar-Irwin, with 5.6 percent.
Statewide, unemployment fell to its lowest point in nine years last month, reflecting continued economic recovery despite signs of a slowdown on the national level.
California’s employers added a relatively modest 15,200 payroll jobs during May. But the EDD revised job gains from April to a resounding 70,000, up from the previously reported 59,600. In the past year, the state has added 440,300 jobs, a 2.8 percent increase.
The Sacramento Bee’s Dale Kasler contributed to this report.