Merced County’s unemployment rate has slowly declined over several months, but a dark cloud of layoffs hangs over the good news.
The unemployment rate declined in June from the previous month by 0.1 of a percentage point to 12.3 percent but is down more than 2 percentage points from this time last year, according to numbers released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.
The county has seen consistently lower rates compared with 2013, but the announcement last month that hundreds of people in Atwater will lose their AT&T call center and other jobs put a damper on any potential excitement.
Despite the drought, farm jobs continue to be strong as the summer months are peak season for many farmers. Adding roughly 600 new farm jobs in June went a long way toward bringing the jobless rate down, said Pedro Vargas, a labor analyst with EDD.
The manufacturing sector added 200 jobs, and the construction and tourism sectors added 100 jobs each. Government jobs are down by 300, Vargas said, because schools are on summer break.
Mark Hendrickson, director of the Merced County Community And Economic Development Department, said though the unemployment rate has been moving in a positive direction, excitement should remain “tempered.”
Later this summer, the county’s jobless rate will feel the impact of about 500 people who will lose their jobs when Atwater’s AT&T call centers and Mi Pueblo Market close. AT&T and the grocery store announced last month that the Atwater locations will shutter later this year and begin layoffs at the end of August.
AT&T’s axing of roughly 400 Atwater jobs will be the largest private sector layoff in the county in more than 20 years.
The loss of so many jobs can have a large impact, especially on a small community. “It’s very difficult for those types of communities to absorb those losses, and we are no different,” Hendrickson said.
The county and its six cities are focused, he said, on attracting new jobs and aiding firms that want to expand in Merced County.
June jobless rates for the county’s six cities are: 12.2 percent for Merced, 12.6 percent for Atwater, 16.9 percent for Dos Palos, 7 percent for Gustine, 14.3 percent for Livingston and 13 percent for Los Banos.
John Bramble, the city manager of Merced, said it’s always good news to see lower unemployment numbers but noted they are likely temporary. Seasonal farm jobs start to fall off later in the year. “We don’t want to be surprised when the unemployment numbers pop up sometime later this fall,” he said.
California unemployment fell to 7.4 percent last month as the job market continued its long climb out of the recession.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today said the statewide unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point, from 7.6 percent in May. It was the lowest unemployment rate in California since July 2008, when it was 7.3 percent. Employers added 24,200 jobs in June.