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Fresno County has lowest January unemployment since 2007

Fresno County’s unemployment rate was estimated at 10.6 percent for January 2016, the lowest rate to start the year since 2007.
Fresno County’s unemployment rate was estimated at 10.6 percent for January 2016, the lowest rate to start the year since 2007. Fresno Bee file

Fresno County’s unemployment rate was estimated at 10.6 percent for January, the lowest rate to start the year since 2007.

Figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department indicate the county’s jobless rate rose from December’s 10.2 percent. But the county continued a trend of year-over-year improvement, as January’s rate was significantly lower than the 12.1 percent reported in January 2015. It was the 53rd consecutive month in which Fresno County’s unemployment rate was lower than it had been a year earlier.

The unemployment rate in January 2007, before the start of an economic recession, was 9.3 percent.

A similar pattern of a higher month-to-month rate and a lower year-to-year rate was reported in neighboring central San Joaquin Valley counties with one exception: Madera’s January unemployment rate was down slightly, to 10.2 percent, compared with 10.5 percent in December. It was 12.3 percent in January 2015.

Several factors combined to drive up Fresno County’s monthly rate from December: A post-holiday trimming of seasonal workers in the retail industry; an increase in the number of people counted in the civilian labor force compared with December; and growth in the number of people who were out of work that outpaced a meager increase in the number of people holding jobs.

The retail sector lost an estimated 2,600 jobs countywide between December and January, the single largest loss for the month according to the state’s survey of employers. Still, retail employment of about 38,000 people was about 1,500 more than in January 2015.

“It’s normal for the rate to go up from December to January,” said Diane Patterson, a labor market analyst with the EDD in Sacramento. “It normally trends up, and it’s largely an issue because of retail, which drives much of the decline between mid-December and mid-January.”

In Friday’s report, she added, the month-to-month cuts in retail employment accounted for 55 percent of the 4,700 total jobs lost in Fresno County.

A gain in farm jobs, however, helped cushion the blow. The number of farm jobs grew by about 2,100 between December and January.

“We think that’s likely driven by weather that was fair for some of that time, and that allowed managers to keep farmworkers on longer to do other activities like planting or pruning,” Patterson said. Typically, farm employment peaks in the late summer and fall, and then declines in the winter months, bottoming out between January and March, she said.

The year-over-year figures tend to offer a better assessment of what’s happening across the economy, Patterson said.

“Retail added jobs from a year ago as we come through the recovery, and hopefully we’ll see retail continue to show growth despite the normal seasonal fluctuations,” she said. “We want to see continued increases in the service industries – retail, leisure and hospitality – because those reflect consumer confidence and people spending more of their discretionary money.”

Across Fresno, Kings, Madera, Merced and Tulare counties, the number of people out of work amounted to 99,300. That’s a decline of almost 12 percent from the estimated regional unemployment of nearly 113,000 in January 2015. Total employment rose by about 1.7 percent, from 768,800 in the first month of 2015 to almost 782,000 this January.

Despite the year-over-year improvement, unemployment rates across the Valley remain stubbornly and significantly higher than either the state or national rates. California’s unemployment rate was estimated at 5.7 percent, down slightly from 5.9 percent in December. The national rate also dipped slightly, from 5 percent in December to 4.9 percent in January. Unemployment rates are derived from a federal survey of households, while numbers of payroll jobs are estimated from a state survey of employers.

Neither the official unemployment rate nor the estimated number of jobless workers include people who are not counted in the labor force, including students, retirees or people who have given up their search for work – also known as “discouraged workers.”

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