Merced County jobless rate drops in September to 16.6 percent from 17.4 percent

The unemployment rate in Merced County for September dropped 0.8 percentage point to 16.6 percent from 17.4 percent in August. The state's unemployment rate is at 12.2 percent.

That makes Merced tied for fifth in the state for the highest unemployment rate. The county with the highest rate, Imperial Valley, posted a whopping 30.4 percent of its population out of work. The other counties with high rates are Yuba with 19 percent, Alpine with 18.5 percent, Sutter and Trinity, both with 17.2 percent, and San Joaquin, which tied with Merced at 16.6 percent.

Despite the gloomy numbers, Pedro Vargas, labor force consultant for the Employment Development Department, thinks prospects are looking up.

"It looks a lot better than last month," Vargas said. "The percentage rate went down largely because government reported growth of 800 jobs."

Of those government jobs, 700 were in local government educational services, which are schools and colleges. There were also 100 new jobs in state government and educational services, along with 100 jobs in both construction and manufacturing. Farming jobs went up to 15,000 in September from 14,700 in August, a gain of 300 jobs.

Harvesting of local crops was in full swing in September.

In the county, the labor force is 109,400, with 18,200 people unemployed. The total number of jobs in the county in September was 69,400, up from 68,100 in August.

Some of the cities in the county had far worse unemployment rates than the county did overall. South Dos Palos had 200 out of 500 of the labor force unemployed, for a rate of 36.7 percent. Planada was also high, at 36.7 percent.

Planada's labor force is 1,900, and 700 of those folks were unemployed in September.

Other cities with high unemployment include Le Grand at 27 percent, Winton at 24.1 percent, Dos Palos at 22.4 percent, Livingston at 19.2 percent and Los Banos at 17.5 percent.

The cities with the lowest unemployment rates in the county included Hilmar with only 8.6 percent unemployed and Gustine with 9.7 percent.

"A lot of the other economists are saying (jobs) are still in a neutral position, not going forward or backwards, but I see it a little bit forward for Merced," Vargas said.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.