MODESTO -- Unemployment in Stanislaus County dropped to 13.5 percent in September, the lowest it has been in nearly four years.
The full percentage point drop from a revised 14.5 percent in August was driven by strong year-to-year growth in manufacturing and month-to-month growth in government, the Employment Development Department reported Friday.
The positive jobs report came at the same day a longtime Modesto plant announced its closure. The International Paper plant on South Riverside Drive will close in the next few months and lay off 130 employees.
Despite the closure news, the county continues its slow crawl back from the recession. The September unemployment rate is the lowest since December 2008, when it was 13.3 percent.
"We've always got good news to report in September," said Nati Martinez, a labor market analyst for the EDD. "This is a month when rates historically are at their lowest for the year."
Down 2 points over 2 years
The jobless rate is down a percentage point from last month and nearly two points from a year ago when it sat at 15.3 percent.
Statewide, the jobless rate fell to from 10.6 percent to 10.2 percent in September in what may be the largest drop in 36 years. The numbers show the largest tumble in the monthly unemployment rate since 1976, said Kevin Callori, a spokesman for the department.
The state rate in September was more than a full percentage point better than the 11.7 percent unemployment rate at the same time a year ago.
"It is a significant drop," Callori said. "It is an encouraging sign, and it is consistent with the overall trend, which is increasing jobs."
In Stanislaus County, manufacturing gained 800 jobs from last year. Leisure and hospitality added 300 from year to year, and trade/transportation/utilities and educational and health services both gained 200 jobs.
Government continues to be the major year-to-year drag, losing 900 jobs from September 2011. But it also had the largest month-to-month jump, going up 1,000 jobs. Ninety percent of that increase came from the local government education sector, thanks to the start of the school year.
Statewide, six sectors grew, including education, finance and transportation. The biggest gains were seen in the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 10,700 jobs.
The number of unemployed people in the state fell to 1.88 million in September. In the county, there were 31,800 unemployed last month, down 2,500 from in August and more than 4,700 from a year ago.
The numbers could get a further boost from the opening of some large plants in the region in the coming year. The Amazon distribution center in Patterson is preparing for construction and the Blue Diamond plant in Turlock should begin hiring soon for a May opening.
Still, Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, said the drop in the current unemployment rate still is being driven by a combination of actual job growth and decline in the overall labor force. "This all adds up to a slow recovery, which is what we've been seeing."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2284.