Farm jobs stay strong, but Merced County unemployment climbs slightly

The March unemployment rate in Merced County was up slightly – 0.2 percent from the previous month – despite a stronger-than-normal showing from farm labor jobs, according to numbers from the Employment Development Department.

The county’s jobless rate was 16.3 percent in March, which was higher than February but down from the 17.3 percent rate in March 2013. The county lost 100 farm jobs in March from the previous month, which is relatively few for this time of year, according to Pedro Vargas, a labor analyst with the EDD.

The trade, transportation and utilities industries, along with the categories of government, leisure and hospitality, gained 300 jobs. The culprit for the unemployment increase in March, Vargas said, was manufacturing, which lost about 300 jobs across the county.

Merced recently moved forward on a deal to sell a 134,304-square-foot building that will be used to process almonds. The Sun Valley Nut facility promises 75 jobs but won’t be hiring for about a year, according to Frank Quintero, economic development director for the city of Merced.

However, the city’s recent addition of restaurants likely showed up in the March numbers, which included 100 new retail jobs. That industry could continue to add work as the building that once housed Lyon’s and Wimpy’s restaurants, on G Street and Olive Avenue, is on its way to becoming an AutoZone. The area around the 6,810-square-foot building would need upgrades to accommodate parking and change some of the building’s design, according to city records.

A developer has requested a permit from the city to begin work on the building, which has been empty since November.

California’s unemployment rate held steady at 8.1 percent in March while nearly 12,000 jobs were created. The EDD also reported Friday that it had revised its February jobless rate to 8.1 percent, up slightly from the previously reported 8 percent.

California’s jobless rate in March was down from 9.2 percent a year ago but remained above the national rate of 6.7 percent.

The 11,800 nonfarm payroll jobs created in March means the state has gained 1.2 million jobs since the economic recovery began in 2010. The information sector led the way with 7,000 new jobs.

Other sectors showing gains include mining and logging; construction; trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; educational and health services; and government.

More than 1.5 million Californians remain unemployed.