State

Stanislaus County jobless rate drops to 15.3 percent; rest of state dips, too

Stanislaus County saw its unemployment rate dip to its lowest point this year in September.

The county's rate fell by about half a percentage point to 15.3 percent. Also, for the second month in a row, Central Valley and foothill counties saw a drop in their jobless numbers, according to reports released Friday by the Employment Development Department.

"(The dip) is expected because that's the way the seasonal hiring patterns work," said Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. "It's normal, but in this economy there is some reassurance in normal."

Statewide last month, the rate ticked down slightly to 12.2 percent from a revised 12.3 percent in August. More than 39,000 Californians lost their jobs last month, the state reported.

Employment Development Department labor market analyst Liz Baker said that since 2000, Stanislaus County has seen an average 0.3 percentage point drop in its jobless rate from August to September as farming and manufacturing continues at the tail end of the annual harvest.

Besides farming, the only industry in the county to add jobs from August to September was professional and business services, which includes many of the private education institutions in the area.

Accredited private, for-profit schools such as the University of Phoenix, Institute of Technology and San Joaquin Valley College have seen an influx of students as job seekers look to improve their employment prospects or change fields after layoffs.

Big influx at schools

The Institute of Technology in Modesto has seen its enrollment jump by about 20 percent since this time last year to some 1,200 students. The influx of pupils has meant an increase in hiring staff and instructors, too.

The school offers 12 degree and diploma programs ranging from culinary to medical, technical and business training.

"It's been busy here," said Curtis Anderson, admission director at the Institute of Technology. "It's sad to say, but the worse the economy is the better our business is. People want to improve their skills and take a step up."

One of those students was Megan Webster. The 25-year-old Modesto resident and former waitress enrolled in the school's human resources program last September after being out of work for a while.

"You're not going anywhere in a waitress job," she said. "All that's there for you is tips."

After graduating July 9, she started a job at the school the next day. Her supervisor, Kim Clemons-Loud, said Webster's hiring was a direct result of the spike in enrollment.

"If there wasn't more enrollment, there wouldn't be this position," said Clemons-Loud, who worked solo as the student support services coordinator for four years before Webster's assistant position was added.

Like the Institute of Technology, San Joaquin Valley College has seen its enrollment skyrocket from 250 students in June to 475 students today. That increase has boosted the faculty and staff by 20 percent to 25 percent as well, said Victoria Gonsalves, the school's enrollment services director.

But while career and private colleges may be reaping the benefits of job seekers looking to improve their skills, the overall picture for the Central Valley and state still looks grim.

Michael, the UOP business expert, said if October and November numbers follow historical trends, the rate should surge again this winter.

"November through March tends to be pretty high," he said. "So, this 15.3 percent you are looking at now, this winter is certainly going to be 18 percent or higher."

2.2M out of work in state

Stanislaus County has averaged an increase in its jobless rate of about 0.8 percentage points from September to October.

Statewide, 732,700 jobs have been lost since September 2008, a decline of about 4.9 percent, according to the state's survey of 42,000 California businesses.

An estimated 2.2 million Californians were without work in September. That number does not include the nearly 500,000 workers who have taken low-paying or part-time jobs because that's all they could find, or the estimated 105,000 people who have given up looking for work.

In Stanislaus County, 37,200 people were without work last month. It's a statistic Webster is acutely aware of as she sits behind her desk at the Institute of Technology.

"Finding a job is just so difficult," she said. "I was really lucky."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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