Merced County's unemployment situation isn't showing much improvement, and other numbers are creating a mixed picture for the professed economic recovery.
The jobless rate for Merced County rose to 20.2 percent in March, which is up from a revised rate of 19.9 percent in February, according to data Friday by the state's Employment Development Department.
As with past months, March's numbers still fell below the jobless rate from a year ago, which was 20.7 percent.
There was an overall increase in jobs reported in Merced County from February to March. State data show that non-farm jobs grew by 500 during that period, while farm employment decreased by 300 jobs.
The loss of farm jobs is abnormally high for March, said Pedro Vargas, Merced County's labor market analyst. A loss of 100 farm jobs would be more conventional for this time of year, but unusual rain patterns have interfered with normal planting and harvesting.
Similarly, Fresno County also had a higher-than-average loss of farm jobs, he said, adding that those numbers should improve next month.
Most of the gains from February to March came from government jobs -- 200 state and 100 federal, Vargas said. All of the state jobs were in education.
Despite the local numbers, recent studies show measurable indications of fiscal improvement on a broader spectrum. The state's unemployment is 11 percent and the national jobless rate is 8.2 percent for the same period.
Gallup's U.S. Economic Confidence Index showed progress over the past week, and sits just below its four-year high. The index is determined by opinions on economic conditions and assessments as to whether the economy is improving.
But many Americans report that they're suffering from underemployment -- a combination of unemployed people and workers who are employed part-time, but would like to work full time. Underemployment bumped up to 18.1 percent in April from 18 percent in March, according to a recent Gallup study.
The nation's shaky economic situation is amplified at the local level.
Merced is the fourth-worst county in California in terms of unemployment, and many residents are looking for signs of the economic recovery that they've been told is en route.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Hub Walsh noted that it's common for Merced County to trail a little when it comes to economic recovery.
"We have always been a little slower," he said. "I'm hopeful that we hit the bottom and from now on we tick up -- even if those ticks are slow."
Merced is the county with the highest unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley, and the neighboring counties of Fresno and Stanislaus are tied at 13th-worst. Each have an unemployment rate of 17.4 percent.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.