Fresno County's unemployment rate was 12.5% in December, a 2.4-percentage-point drop from a year earlier and the lowest December jobless rate in six years.
Fresno was one of two Valley counties where unemployment rates fell between November and December, according to figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department. Fresno County's unemployment was estimated at 12.6% in November. The jobless rate also dipped slightly in Madera County, while it ticked upward in Kings, Merced and Tulare counties.
Statewide, the unemployment rate fell to 8.3%, compared to 8.5% in November and 9.8% a year ago. Even with the declining unemployment rate, however, about 1.5 million members of California's labor force remained without jobs in December, according to preliminary, seasonally adjusted data. In addition, the number of people counted in the state's labor pool has been declining, from 18.6 million in October to 18.5 million in December. Part of that drop could represent people who remain without work and have given up looking for a job -- and they are not counted in the unemployment rate.
The EDD reported that more than 504,000 people in California were receiving regular unemployment benefits in December -- up from both the previous month and the prior year.
The national unemployment rate last month was estimated at 6.7%, down from 7.0% in November and 7.9% in December 2012.
Across the central San Joaquin Valley, about 111,300 people were reported to be out of work last month. That was 1,200 more than in November, according to a survey of Valley employers, but a significant improvement from December 2012, when more than 134,000 people were unemployed.
Last month represented the lowest December unemployment rate in Fresno County since December 2007, when the rate was 9.7%. Year-over-year rates (the monthly rate compared to the same month a year earlier) have fallen in the county for each of the last 27 months, since September 2011.
For all of 2013, the average unemployment rate in Fresno County was 13%, the lowest annual rate since 10.5% in 2008, said Steven Gutierrez, a labor market specialist for the EDD. It's also the fourth straight year that the annual rate has fallen since it peaked at 16.9% in 2010. "Hopefully this means we won't see it that high again for a very long time," Gutierrez said.
The holiday shopping season, traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for retail merchants, generated a surprisingly small bump in seasonal hiring. In Fresno County, retail employers reported a total of 34,100 workers in December -- about 700 fewer than in December 2012. Retail stores added only about 1,600 jobs between October and December. "I was expecting more than that," Gutierrez said, noting that many retailers ended up reporting disappointing sales in the 2013 holiday season.
The construction sector saw jobs rise by 100 between November and December, "the first time we've seen a December increase for the first time since 2005," Gutierrez said. "We usually see construction jobs decrease this time of year." A mild winter is believed to be responsible for allowing outdoor construction work to continue largely uninterrupted by poor weather.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, email@example.com or @tsheehan on Twitter.