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Fresno County unemployment rate unchanged in February

Raisin harvest is in full swing in September, which is when Gustavo Luna brought in bins of raisins from a Fowler field in this 2013 file photo. But the agriculture labor force drops in the winter when farmwork is quiet.
Raisin harvest is in full swing in September, which is when Gustavo Luna brought in bins of raisins from a Fowler field in this 2013 file photo. But the agriculture labor force drops in the winter when farmwork is quiet. Fresno Bee file photo

Unemployment held steady in Fresno between January and February, unchanged at 10.5 percent, according to figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department. But in Fresno County and neighboring central San Joaquin Valley counties, the rates were at least a full percentage point lower than they were a year ago.

In February 2015, Fresno County’s unemployment rate was 11.8 percent. Last month was the 54th consecutive month in which the jobless rate fell from a year earlier, and the lowest rate for any February since 2007.

“These estimates follow the region’s normal seasonal trends, with higher unemployment rates in the winter,” said Steven Gutierrez, a labor market analyst with the EDD office in Fresno.

“In the first quarter, we typically post our highest rates of the year because construction work is slower with the winter weather, there’s less agricultural work going on, and retailers are still cutting back on their staff after the holidays.”

In the first quarter, we typically post our highest rates of the year because construction work is slower with the winter weather, there’s less agricultural work going on, and retailers are still cutting back on their staff after the holidays.

Steven Gutierrez, EDD labor market analyst

Farms in Fresno County lost about 1,000 jobs between January and February, and retail jobs fell by 500. But those month-to-month losses were outweighed by gains in other industry sectors, for a net job gain of about 2,500 countywide.

Education and health services led the private-sector job gains, adding about 1,100 jobs during the month. Leisure/hospitality businesses, including hotels, restaurants and bars, gained 500 jobs, of which 300 were in accommodations and food services.

The government sector added about 1,500 jobs, including 400 in federal offices that Gutierrez said are most likely attributed the Fresno IRS center ramping up its temporary staffing for the tax-filing season.

In year-over-year changes, all but three industry sectors – farms, leisure/hospitality and professional services – reported February increases in jobs compared to February 2015.

“Education and health services continue to bode well for Fresno County, adding 3,600 jobs,” Gutierrez said. “That’s the highest job total for February since 2004, when the gain hit 3,700 jobs. And January and February of 2016 have each seen at least 1,000 more jobs than in January and February of last year.”

And while retailers in the county continued to slice their post-holiday payrolls, the sector still had 1,600 more jobs than a year ago. “That marked the 46th consecutive month of year-over increases for the retail subsector,” Gutierrez said. “With spring around the corner, hopefully this sector will continue to see improvement.”

Manufacturing added 1,100 jobs compared to February 2015. Gutierrez said it was the second month in a row that the year-over gains in manufacturing have been more than 1,000 jobs.

10.5%Fresno County unemployment rate, February 2016

5.5%California unemployment rate

4.9%U.S. unemployment rate

The EDD’s estimates of payroll jobs are based on a state survey of businesses, while the official unemployment rate is derived from a federal survey of households.

The number of unemployed in Fresno County last month was estimated at 46,600, compared to 52,300 a year ago. Across the five-county Valley region, unemployment added up to about 98,800 – down from about 110,000 in February 2015.

The unemployment rate and the numbers of people counted as jobless are based on estimates of people who want jobs and are available to work but cannot find it. The figures don’t include students or retirees who aren’t looking for work, nor does it count people dubbed “discouraged workers” – often chronic or long-term unemployed who have given up their search for work.

Despite the trend of year-over-year improvement in the local unemployment rates, the region continues to suffer from significantly higher rates than the state and nation. California’s statewide jobless rate fell slightly to 5.5 percent in February, compared to 5.7 percent in January. Within the state, the highest unemployment rate was reported in Colusa County at 21.6 percent. The state’s lowest unemployment rate, 3.2 percent, was in Marin County.

The U.S. unemployment rate was unchanged last month at 4.9 percent.

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