Three things to know about December unemployment
• Fresno County ended the year with 11% unemployment in December.
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• The average annual unemployment rate in Fresno County was 11.4% in 2014.
• California’s unemployment rate in December was 7%, while the national rate was 5.6%.
Fresno County’s unemployment rate edged down slightly in December, ending the year at 11% and marking the county’s lowest December unemployment rate in seven years.
In figures released Friday, the state Employment Development Department reported the number of people working in the county fell by about 1,800 between November and December. But the number of people in the labor force shrank even more, creating the mathematical dip in the unemployment rate from November’s 11.2%. A year ago, the unemployment rate in Fresno County was 12.1%.
The average jobless rate for all of 2014 was 11.4%, the lowest annual rate since 2008 when it was 10.5%, said Steven Gutierrez, an EDD labor market analyst in Fresno. The county’s yearly average unemployment rate peaked at 16.7% in 2010, and fell to 16.4% in 2011, 15% in 2012 and 12.9% in 2013.
Employment in most industry sectors was flat in Fresno County last month. Private-sector education/health services grew by 800 jobs, mostly in health services and social assistance. But other industries saw declines, including a drop of 800 jobs in government, 400 in construction, and 200 in farming.
The retail sector, in the late stages of the holiday shopping season, saw 200 new jobs in December — a marked slowdown in the pace of hiring after strong surges of 700 positions in October and 1,800 in November. By the time EDD conducted its December job survey of employers, about 38,400 people held down retail jobs, up from 35,800 in September. “During that three-month period, we had a good little increase,” Gutierrez said. “But we will probably see retail go down in January and February because a lot of those were seasonal jobs. … It just depends on how many of those workers the businesses plan to keep on in the new year.”
Gutierrez said it’s normal to see seasonal swings in sectors such as construction and farm jobs during the winter months, with hiring picking up in the spring as weather improves. “But this is another winter where we haven’t had a lot of rain, and we don’t know what effect the drought is having on farm jobs,” he said. “Once springtime comes, it will be interesting to see how much planting some of these farmers will be doing.”
In year-to-year figures, December represented the 39th consecutive month in which unemployment was lower than it had been a year earlier. Between December 2013 and December 2014, total employment in Fresno County rose by 7,600 jobs. The largest year-to-year growth was in education/health services, which added 2,900 jobs. Professional/business services (composed of firms that provide services for business clients including administrative, waste disposal, legal, scientific, accounting, engineering and technical work) added 1,900 jobs during the year. And construction, one of the hardest-hit industries during the recession a few years ago, was about 1,200 jobs ahead of December 2013, with about 14,500 workers last month despite the one-month decline from November.
Across the five-county region, the number of people estimated by EDD to be working rose by almost 27,000 between December 2013 and 2014, to 776,200. In the same period, the number of people out of work but who wanted jobs fell by 7,800, to 101,900.
The state’s estimates are based on the active labor force — people who are working or who are looking for work. The figures don’t count people who are considered outside the labor force, including students, retirees or those who have given up their search for work, also known as “discouraged workers.” Additionally, the county-level figures from EDD make no distinction between full- and part-time jobs.
California’s unemployment rate fell to 7% in December, down from 7.2% a month earlier, but the state added few jobs last month. The EDD says the number of non-farm payroll jobs increased by just 700 last month, despite the improvement in the overall rate. The last time California’s jobless rate stood at 7% was June 2008, before the recession took hold. The state reported Friday that California has added more than 1.5 million jobs since the economic recovery began in February 2010.
When month-by-month swings in the number of jobs created are evened out, the state had roughly a net gain of 26,000 jobs per month in 2014, said Michael Bernick, a former EDD director who is now a fellow at the Milken Institute.
“This is healthier job growth than we have seen since the early 2000s, and more in line with what we can expect in 2015,” Bernick said. But he noted that a higher percentage of those new jobs are part-time. “The part-time workforce reached 3.49 million in November, of which 1.2 million were ‘involuntary’ part-time workers who were unable to find full-time work,” he wrote.
The U.S. unemployment rate is 5.6%, down two-tenths of a percentage point from 5.8% in November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.