It's taken years after the recession for Fresno County to reach a new employment peak

More people were employed last month in Fresno County than ever before, climbing to a new post-recession peak as agricultural activity picked up in the county and across the San Joaquin Valley.

The estimate, released Friday by the state Employment Development Department, shows that about 422,800 people were working in May 2018. It was enough to drive the county's unemployment rate to 6.9 percent – only the second time the rate has dipped below 7 percent since October 2006.

May also marked the 80th consecutive month in which the monthly unemployment rate was at or below where it was a year earlier. In May 2017, the county's unemployment rate was estimated at 7.8 percent. The April 2018 rate was 7.5 perent.

The number of farm jobs grew by about 6,200 between April and May, reflecting a normal seasonal swing in agricultural employment as harvest seasons began to pick up and bringing the number of farm jobs to about 53,700. Other industry sectors that saw significant job gains were leisure/hospitality, which grew by 500 jobs to more than 34,000 workers; construction, gaining 400 jobs to just under 19,000 workers; and private-sector education/health services, growing by 400 jobs to 69,000 workers.

Neighboring Valley counties also saw their May unemployment rates drop from the prior month and compared to a year earlier.

Kings County: 6.9 percent, down from 8 percent in April and 8 percent in May 2017.

Madera County: 6.5 percent, down from 7.3 percent in April and 7.7 percent in May 2017.

Tulare County: 8.4 percent, down from 9.2 percent in April and 9.3 percent in May 2017.

Unemployment rates in Fresno and the Valley remain significantly higher than the statewide or national rates. California's statewide unemployment rate was estimated at 3.7 percent in May, while the national rate was reported at 3.8 percent by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The lowest unemployment rate in California was in San Mateo County at 1.9 percent, while the highest rate was 15.8 percent in Imperial County.

Tim Sheehan: 559-441-6319; Twitter: @TimSheehanNews.