The number of jobs on farms and in nonfarm industries rose in Fresno County in February, putting the county’s unemployment rate at 10.3 percent for the month – an improvement not only from January, but also compared to a year ago.
Figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department indicate that about 9,100 more people were working last month than in February 2016. The reduction in the unemployment rate from a year ago represented the 65th consecutive month of year-over-year improvement in Fresno County, continuing a long-term trend of a slow but steady economic recovery since the depths of the recession in 2010. The unemployment rate in February 2016 was 10.7 percent.
Employment gains between January – when the unemployment rate was reported at 10.5 percent – and February were estimated at about 3,800 jobs.
A similar pattern was seen in neighboring Kings, Madera and Tulare counties – unemployment rates that were lower than a month ago and also down from a year earlier. Merced County’s unemployment rate of 12.4 percent was unchanged from January.
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Construction is slower in the winter, there’s less agricultural work, and retailers are still reducing their staffs after the holidays.
Steven Gutierrez, EDD labor market analyst
“We’re seeing the normal seasonal trend with higher unemployment in the winter,” said Steven Gutierrez, a labor market analyst for the EDD in Fresno. “We typically post the highest unemployment rates of the year in the first quarter. Construction is slower in the winter, there’s less agricultural work, and retailers are still reducing their staffs after the holidays.”
The 10.3 percent unemployment rate was the lowest for the month of February since 2007, when the rate was reported at 9.8 percent. The rate for February peaked at 18.4 percent in 2010 and has been falling since.
All but three of Fresno County’s major employment sectors saw job gains compared to a year ago. The only year-over-year declines were reported in farm jobs, which lost 400 positions from February 2016; information businesses, a decline of 100 positions; and leisure/hospitality businesses, where 500 fewer jobs were reported.
Private-sector education and health services showed 3,000 more positions from a year ago, while government agencies were up by 2,600 jobs and transportation/trade/utilities up by 1,600 positions. “Even though retailers continue to cut back their post-holiday employment, they still had 700 more jobs than a year ago,” Gutierrez said. “That’s 58 consecutive months of improvement for that subsector. … But with old-school retailers like Sears and Kmart struggling, the retail landscape could change.”
Statewide, the unemployment rate fell to 5.0 percent in February, down from 5.2 percent in January and down from 5.6 percent a year ago. The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.7 percent last month, down from 4.8 percent in January.
The unemployment rate is based on a federal survey of 5,500 California households, while industry employment and estimates of positions added or lost are derived from a state survey of 58,000 businesses.
“The unemployment rate of 5.0 percent for February … is the lowest rate in California since March 2007. It is also among the lowest rates over the past 50 years in California,” said Michael Bernick, an employment attorney in San Francisco and former director of the state Employment Development Department. “We had a run of eight months in late 2000 and early 2001, when unemployment fell below 5 percent, but since 1970, today’s rate is among the lowest.”
Even with this job growth, finding a job, especially a steady job that is more than part-time, eludes many Californians.
Michael Bernick, former director of the California Employment Development Department
Bernick added that California is now experiencing its 84th straight month of employment expansion. “This is one of the longest expansions in the post-World War II period,” he said. “But it is still short of the 113-month expansion in the 1960s, as well as the 92-month expansion from 1993 to 2000 and the 91-month expansion from 1982 to 1990.”
Despite the job growth, however, “finding a job, especially a steady job that is more than part-time, eludes many Californians,” Bernick said.
Counting the underemployed
Neither the unemployment rate nor the estimates of industry employment make a distinction between part-time or full-time work, nor do they include people who are not officially counted among the labor force – students and seniors who aren’t looking for work, or long-term unemployed who have given up their search for jobs and often described as “discouraged workers.”
In a report issued Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the number of discouraged workers in California last year at 61,400.
The federal agency’s report added that California had about 920,000 workers who were working part time in 2016 but wanted full-time jobs – a category of workers dubbed “involuntary part-time” for economic reasons. “These individuals were working part time because of slack work or business conditions, or because they were unable to find a full-time job,” the BLS reported.
Fresno County’s monthly unemployment rates for February (below) have been in decline since peaking at 18.4 percent in February 2010.
Source: California Employment Development Department