Merced County's unemployment rate increased to 20 percent from a revised 19.5 percent in January.
However, as in months past, February's jobless rate was still below the high-water mark from one year ago, when unemployment was 21 percent.
California's unemployment rate held steady at 10.9 percent in February, and the national rate held steady at 8.3 percent, the California Employment Development Department reported Friday. The state unemployment rate was 12 percent in February 2011.
February's local job growth came from farm and government positions, which posted a collective increase of 400 posts, according to state data. Job loss came from trade, transportation, utilities, information and financial activities, which combined for a loss of 600 jobs.
Despite the job loss, Merced went from the third-worst county in California to the fourth-worst in terms of unemployment.
As labor market analyst Pedro Vargas predicted earlier this month, gains in farm employment showed in February's numbers but still weren't enough to compensate for other losses.
Unemployment numbers usually are higher from December through April, he said, adding that he's anticipating next month's numbers to be a little better unless education employment takes a hit.
Farm jobs should continue picking up, but Vargas said he's been hearing from some communities about looming cuts to school staff.
Despite a lack of rain this season, farm employment hasn't sustained a loss, said Supervisor John Pedrozo, whose District 1 covers much of the county's rural agricultural land.
The unusual rain pattern has instead shifted around the usual planting times for various crops, affecting traditional hiring time frames, he said.
Out of a 110,600-person work force in Merced County, 22,200 are unemployed, state data show. Unemployment rates are 19.8 percent in Merced, 20.4 percent in Atwater, 23 percent in Livingston and 21 percent in Los Banos.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.