Fresno County’s annual average unemployment rate dipped below 10 percent last year – the first time it has been in single digits since 2007.
The preliminary estimate is based on figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department for December. December’s monthly unemployment rate was 9.5 percent. It was the 63rd straight month of year-over-year improvement compared with the same month the year before. The monthly rate was up slightly compared with with November’s 9.3 percent, but was below the 10.2 percent reported in December 2015.
December’s unemployment estimate closed out Fresno’s annual average unemployment rate at 9.4 percent for the year, compared with 10.2 percent in 2015. The county’s annual average rate topped out at 16.7 percent in 2010, during the depths of the recession in the Valley.
“It’s a good, bright line for the Fresno economy to be under 10 percent for the year,” said Jeff Michael, an economist at the University of the Pacific in Stockton and director of the school’s Center for Business and Policy Research. “That’s only about the fourth time that’s happened in the past 25 years. It’s even more meaningful to think about it in that long-run context because Fresno doesn’t see single-digit unemployment all that often.”
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The figures reflect a year in which more people than ever were working in Fresno County. On average, nearly 450,000 Fresno County residents had jobs last year, while the number of people out of work dipped to a monthly average of about 42,300, its lowest point since a decade ago.
“This was our lowest December unemployment rate since 2006, when it was 8 percent,” said Steven Gutierrez, an EDD labor market specialist in Fresno. “This was also the ninth consecutive month with an unemployment rate under 10 percent, something that we have not seen since 2007.”
The last time the annual average unemployment rate was under 10 percent “was when it was 8.6 percent in 2007,” Gutierrez added.
It’s a good, bright line for the Fresno economy to be under 10 percent for the year.
Economist Jeff Michael, director of the University of the Pacific’s Center for Business and Policy Research
What happened in Fresno County also was reflected in four neighboring Valley counties – unemployment rates for December that were higher than in November, but lower than a year earlier. And the Valley-wide, five-county figures for December show that the entire region collectively came in with a 2016 average unemployment rate of 9.9 percent, also the first time it has fallen below 10 percent since 2007.
Across the Valley, an average of more than 801,000 people had jobs each month – the biggest number in at least a decade. The average number of people out of work was about 88,400, the lowest number of unemployed across the five-county region since 2007.
For the month, December showed year-over-year employment gains in Fresno County in all but two industry sectors. Business/professional services – which includes companies, firms and contractors that provide such services as waste management, accountants, attorneys and consultants – lost about 1,000 jobs compared with December 2015. The information services sector lost 100 jobs in the year-over-year comparison.
Government agencies reported the largest year-over gains in employment, with local government adding 2,300 jobs and the state government adding 200 jobs.
December’s figures show that retailers added about 1,400 jobs compared with December 2015. Over the final three months of the year, the holiday shopping season drove the addition of about 3,300 jobs compared with the last quarter of 2015, “and most of that hiring occurred in October and November,” Gutierrez said.
But, he warned, the recently announced plans to close two Kmart stores in Fresno County – one in Kingsburg and another in Coalinga – will likely take a toll on the retail employment figures later this year.
Health care and social-assistance occupations added 900 jobs year-over-year in December, while the leisure/hospitality sector – which includes hotel and motel workers and restaurant/food service workers – gained 600 jobs from a year earlier. The number of farm jobs was flat in December compared with 12 months earlier, but was down nearly 1,000 from November.
When averaged over the course of the entire year, Fresno County’s largest employment sectors show a mixed bag of long-range performance.
The county’s agriculture industry, always showing seasonal swings in the numbers of workers depending on peak periods of activity, had an average of about 48,100 jobs each month last year. But that is down substantially from an all-time high average of about 62,000 workers in 1996.
And the county’s construction trades, which reached a peak average of more than 23,000 workers in 2006 at the height of the housing boom, dipped to as low as 11,500 workers in 2011; by last year, the average had recovered to only about 15,000 jobs.
Michael, the UOP economist, believes Fresno County’s unemployment rate will be stable for the next year or so, but there could be some risk beyond that.
“I expect we may see a little slowdown in employment” in mid- to late 2018 and 2019, he said. “If we have any global trade issues, those would start to manifest in a couple of years, and then we could see some effects from the pullback of Obamacare hitting the Valley.”
California added a relatively feeble 3,700 non-farm jobs statewide between November and December, but that still was enough to drive the state’s unemployment rate to 5.2 percent last month. That’s down from 5.3 percent in November and from 5.9 percent in December 2015.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate in December was estimated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics at 4.7 percent, a slight bump from 4.6 percent in November but below the year-ago rate of 5 percent.
Neither the unemployment estimates nor the unemployment rate makes any distinction between part-time or full-time work, nor do they account for how many people may hold more than one job. The official unemployment rate also does not count people who are not in the labor force at the time of the monthly surveys. Those may include retirees, students who are in school instead of working, or discouraged workers who have given up their search for a job.