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Merced County jobless rate, although still bad, continues to improve

Merced County's unemployment rate has fallen for the second consecutive month, though it still ranks among the highest in the state.

California's Employment Development Department reported Friday that the county's unemployment rate slid to 17.3 percent.

It had been 18.1 percent in April and 20.2 percent in March.

"It's tapering off," said Pedro Vargas, a state labor market consultant based in Merced. "The numbers are getting better."

The state average, on the other hand, rose 11.5 percent, the highest since the statistics have been kept. The U.S. unemployment rate climbed to 9.4 percent.

Merced County's reversal comes after seven months of a steady increase. It's due solely to the ag industry gearing up and other sectors not worsening.

The farm industry packed on an additional 1,600 jobs from April to May, bringing its work force to 11,100 people, according to the figures. Still, the number of ag workers is down from this time last year when the industry employed 11,400.

All other industries remained stagnant, with any gains being cancelled out by other losses.

The manufacturing industry hired 100 people from April to May, while the trade, transportation and utilities sector shaved off that many.

All other industries remained stagnant.

Year over year, Merced County lost 2,000 jobs.

Since May 2008, all the industries cut jobs except financial activities, government and educational services. Business and professional services added 100 jobs.

Of Merced's labor force, 105,800 people, there are 18,200 without jobs.

The highest unemployment rate ever recorded in Merced County was 21.7 percent in February 1996.

Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or sjason@mercedsun-star.com.

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