Fresno County unemployment rate falls to near 6-year low

The Fresno BeeJune 20, 2014 

Fresno County's unemployment rate in May dipped to its lowest point in almost six years on the strength of seasonal farm jobs and rising employment in a range of other sectors.

The state Employment Development Department reported Friday that the county's jobless rate was 10.5% last month. That was down from 12.1% in April, and nearly two percentage points below May 2013.

"This is the first time our unemployment rate has been below 11% since September 2008," when the rate was 9.4%, said Steven Gutierrez, a labor market analyst for the EDD.

May was also the 32nd consecutive month in which the unemployment rate in Fresno County was lower than a year earlier, Gutierrez added. "Year over year, we're continuing to see growth and that's a positive sign," he said.

Gutierrez said May is typically when growth in farm jobs accelerates to drive down unemployment rates until the fall. "We usually see a surge of activity in food manufacturing, food processing and farming, and it is likely to continue through the summer," he said.

Between April and May, Fresno County saw an increase of about 14,200 jobs, including almost 11,000 in farming. Other industry sectors that saw month-over-month growth were trade/transportation/utilities and private-sector educational/health services, each with 800 new jobs. The government sector added 700 jobs, while manufacturing and construction each added 500.

Similar patterns were reported in neighboring central San Joaquin Valley counties, with last month's unemployment rates ranging from 9.5% in Madera County to 11.6% in Tulare County, representing the lowest that the figures have been since the fall of 2008. In Merced County, the May unemployment rate was 12.5%, but it had dipped as low as 12% last fall.

Statewide, California's jobless rate fell to 7.6% in May, maintaining a steady decline past pre-recession levels. The state figures have been falling since reaching a peak of 12.4% in October 2010. The national rate held steady last month at 6.3%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Across the five-county Valley region, the number of people who want jobs but are out of work was estimated at 99,400, down from more than 112,000 in April. The number working climbed to 807,000 last month, up from about 775,000 from a month earlier. But the labor figures make no distinction between whether filled positions are full- or part-time, permanent or temporary, nor does the number of unemployed include people who have given up their search for jobs and are not counted among the available labor force.

Gutierrez warned that the region could see its unemployment rate tick upward next month, when the figures for June are released. "The summer is when we see a little spike as kids come back from school and retirees start looking for summer jobs," he said. "We usually have a little more participation in the labor force."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, or @TimSheehanNews on Twitter.

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