Merced County’s unemployment rate dropped in April to 14.3 percent, down from 16.3 percent in March, according to data released on Friday by the state Employment Development Department.
The decrease in the county’s unemployment rate can be attributed to growth in farm employment, said Pedro Vargas, a labor market consultant for the Employment Development Department. The data showed the farm industry gained 1,000 jobs from a year ago.
“We were all thinking we were going to take a drop related to the drought, but so far it has not shown up in the numbers,” Vargas said. “As of right now, we have not shown that kind of a difference.”
The county’s April unemployment figure is also an improvement from last year’s 15.7 percent, according to the statistics.
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Overall, the county added 4,000 jobs since last year, including an increase of 500 manufacturing jobs. The trade, transportation and utilities industry lost 300 jobs year-over-year, but gained 200 jobs since last month.
The only loss since last month was 100 jobs in local government, but Vargas said the numbers are still promising for Merced County. “The increase in manufacturing (jobs) is really a significant increase because within the last couple months, it’s been very weak,” he said.
By comparison, California’s jobless rate for April was 7.8 percent. The last time it was below 8 percent was in September 2008, when the rate was 7.9 percent. A year ago, California’s jobless rate stood at 9.1 percent.
Mark Hendrickson, Merced County director of community and economic development, said the latest unemployment numbers are a step in the right direction, but the county still has a long way to go to see permanent improvement.
“Unemployment continues to be a chronic issue, but clearly, these numbers continue to suggest that there are some positive gains currently,” Hendrickson said. “It also demonstrates that we have a very long way to go.”
Hendrickson credited Gov. Jerry Brown as well as Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, for a new tax credit program offered to some county businesses that hire new employees.
The New Employment Credit is meant to benefit communities with the highest rates of unemployment and poverty. Merced, Fresno and Riverside counties are the first to be able to use it.
The three counties have been designated as pilot areas, effective immediately. Manufacturing and industry are the focus of the new credit. It is not available to retailers, food service, temporary employment agencies, casinos or bars.
“Merced County is incredibly pleased that the governor included us as one of the pilot areas,” Hendrickson said. “These programs are designed to help place Merced County in a more competitive position to attract diverse employers and jobs, which will benefit residents in our area.”