The beginning of a seasonal lull in agricultural work led to the loss of more than 11,000 farm jobs in Fresno County between September and October, driving the countywide unemployment rate up by 1.3 percentage points from September to 9.3 percent.
Figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department reveal that gains in non-farm jobs weren’t enough to make up for the impact of the end of agriculture’s busy harvest seasons for crops such as raisins and almonds, said Steven Gutierrez, a labor market consultant for the EDD in Fresno.
Still, Gutierrez added, last month reflected the lowest October unemployment rate since October 2008, when it was 8.2 percent. It also was the sixth consecutive month in which Fresno County’s unemployment rate was less than 10 percent – something that hadn’t been achieved since 2007, before an economic recession peaked in the region.
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A similar pattern was depicted in neighboring Valley counties – higher than September, but lower than a year ago.
October was the 49th consecutive month in which Fresno County’s unemployment rate was lower than it was a year earlier. The rate in October 2014 was 10.4 percent.
Even though we saw seasonal gains in other industries, the loss of farm jobs kind of wipes things out because it was such a large drop.
Steven Gutierrez, EDD labor market consultant in Fresno
The loss of farm jobs is typical this time of year as agricultural activity slows considerably in the fall and winter seasons.
“Looking back, we’ve seen some bigger drops in recent years; it was 17,200 jobs in 2008” in Fresno County, Gutierrez said. “It’s going to stay slow until the spring, depending on when we see farm work start to pick up and how much rain we get this winter.”
Farming represents the fourth-largest industry for employment in Fresno County, behind government (including federal, state and local agencies as well as state colleges and universities and public schools), trade/transportation/utilities, and private-sector education and health services.
“Even though we saw seasonal gains in other industries,” Gutierrez added, “the loss of farm jobs kind of wipes things out because it was such a large drop and because agriculture is so dominant to the county’s economy.”
Retail stores added about 500 employees countywide between September and October “in what appeared to be ramp-up to the holiday shopping season,” Gutierrez said. The number of retail employees in October was flat compared to October 2014, he added.
The sector with the largest year-over-year gains included leisure/hospitality, including bars and restaurants, with an increase of about 2,400 jobs since October 2014 “as restaurants get busier and try to meet demand for holiday parties and to refuel shoppers,” Gutierrez said. Private-sector education/health services gained about 2,100 jobs from a year ago, mostly in health care and social assistance jobs.
Across the five-county central San Joaquin Valley, the EDD estimated that about 786,900 people were employed, almost 7,000 more than a year ago. The number of people out of work throughout the region fell by about 9,100, to 83,700.
But neither the unemployment rate nor the estimated number of jobless accounts for people who are not counted among the available labor force, such as retirees, students in school or others who are not looking for work –including those considered “discouraged workers” who have given up their search for jobs. The employment figures also make no distinction between full-time and part-time employment, or people who may be working more than one job to make ends meet.
California’s statewide unemployment rate fell slightly, from 5.9 percent in September to 5.8 percent last month, on the strength of adding about 41,200 jobs during the month. Over the past year, the EDD estimates that California has seen an increase of about 463,000 jobs.
Nationally, unemployment rates fell in 32 states including California as employers across the country added the most jobs of any month so far this year. Rates rose in three states. The nationwide unemployment rate for October was estimated at 5 percent, down from 5.1 percent in September.