Fresno County’s average annual unemployment rate reached an eight-year low last year, dipping below 10 percent – barely – for the first time since 2007.
Figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department estimated Fresno County’s unemployment rate at 10.3 percent for December. That drove the average rate for the entire year to 9.96 percent, down from 11.6 percent for 2014. It is the lowest annual rate since the county registered 8.6 percent in 2007.
Madera County also was below 10 percent, with an average rate of 9.9 percent for all of 2015. The last time that county’s annual rate was below 10 percent was in 2008, at 9.6 percent.
In Fresno County and its neighboring Valley counties, annual unemployment has fallen in each of the past six years, dropping to levels not seen since the early part of the 2007-09 recession.
December’s estimated unemployment rate of 10.3 percent snapped a seven-month streak in which Fresno County’s monthly unemployment rate was below 10 percent, said Steven Gutierrez, an EDD labor market analyst in Fresno. Still, last month was the 52nd consecutive month of year-over-year improvement in the monthly unemployment rate.
“This was our lowest December rate since 2007, when it was 9.6 percent,” Gutierrez said.
391,400Number employed in Fresno County, December 2015
388,100Number employed, December 2014
375,900Number employed, December 2013
Across Fresno, Kings, Madera, Merced and Tulare counties, the number of people working last month was estimated at 770,600, while the number of unemployed in the region was reported as 95,200. But neither the unemployment rate nor the estimated number of jobless accounts for people not counted for the available labor force, such as retirees, students in school or others 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.
Strong finish to 2015
The final three months of the year saw significant employment year-over-year surges in several industries, particularly private-sector education/health services and leisure/hospitality, Gutierrez added.
“Education and health services have been a driving force in Fresno County, adding 1,800 jobs in December” compared to December 2014, Gutierrez said. “Overall hiring in the last three months of 2015 resulted in 6,600 workers added to payrolls in that period of time” relative to the last quarter of 2014.
Similarly, leisure and hospitality businesses including hotels, restaurants and bars registered 6,800 more jobs in the fourth quarter of 2015 compared to the last three months of 2014, he said. “With several new restaurants that are supposed to be coming into the area, like Dave & Buster’s this summer, we will hopefully continue to see growth in this sector in 2016,” Gutierrez said.
The holiday season, traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for merchants, sparked an increase of 400 jobs in retail in December.
Steven Gutierrez, EDD labor market analyst
In the month-to-month measure, several industry segments lost jobs between November and December. “Trade/transportation/utilities was the only sector that saw significant growth” over the month, Gutierrez said. “The holiday season, traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for merchants, sparked an increase of 400 jobs in retail in December, which was a small bump in hiring since last year,” he said. Through October, November and December, however, retail stores added fewer employees compared to 2014, Gutierrez said.
“According to national reports, technology is making it possible for retailers to meet higher customer demand with fewer workers, and it could be that we’re seeing that happening in Fresno as well,” he said.
Agriculture, a mainstay of the region’s economy, employed about 39,400 people last month. That was a decline of about 400 jobs from November, and part of a normal seasonal lull in farm activity during the winter months. The number of farm jobs was about 900 fewer than in December 2014.
State and national rates
Despite the continuing year-over-year improvement in the Valley’s figures, the region’s unemployment rates continue their historic pattern of hovering several points higher than statewide or national averages.
California’s unemployment rate increased slightly in December, the first uptick in months despite an increase in the number of nonfarm jobs, the EDD reported.
December’s unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, up from 5.7 percent in November but still well below the 7.1 percent rate from a year earlier.
The official unemployment rate is based on a federal survey of 5,500 California households. The number of jobs in various industries is derived from a larger state survey of about 58,000 California businesses.
The federal survey showed that 17.9 million Californians held jobs in December, an increase of 334,000 over a year earlier. The number of unemployed people in the state was about 1.1 million last month, down about 251,000 compared to December 2014.
The EDD also reported that about 393,400 people in California received regular unemployment insurance benefits last month. That’s up from about 355,900 in November, but it’s a decrease from the 436,000 who received unemployment in December 2014. New claims for unemployment insurance numbered 53,248 last month, compared with 54,438 in November and 47,858 in December 2014.
The national unemployment rate was estimated at 5.0 percent, unchanged from October and November, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.