MODESTO -- Stanislaus County saw a modest increase in the unemployment rate for September, but it remains at its lowest since 2008 and signals proof of the area's continued recovery.
The county ticked up to 13.9 percent unemployment in October, up half a percentage point from a revised 13.4 percent for September, according to a report released Friday by the state Employment Development Department. The increase follows historical trends as agriculture and manufacturing close out their busy seasons.
The jobless rate is a full point and a half less than what it was a year ago as the area's slow recovery from the Great Recession builds after a long period of stagnation.
The numbers echo the findings reported at the second annual San Joaquin Valley Business Forecast Summit on Thursday at California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock. CSU, Stanislaus, economics Professor Gokce Soydemir predicts the valley will return to its "natural rate" of unemployment about 12 percent in early 2014.
Soydemir said the gradual improvements to the valley economy this year have proved his predictions from a year ago which were 94 percent accurate of a real recovery in the area.
"When we were here last year, people were not convinced the economy was recovering. People thought we were painting a too-pink picture last year, but that wasn't the case," he said in front of a crowd of university and business leaders. "The valley is on its way. But the recession was like a very bad car accident. You don't recover from that in two months."
His business forecast report showed that valley employment grew by an annual rate of 2.08 percent in the first eight months of 2012. All areas of industry grew during that period except for government, which continues to lag behind the private sector.
Soydemir said his model for projected job growth takes into account increases in consumer confidence and home values.
But he cautioned that people should not expect the recovery to bring the valley back to the economy it had just before the recession, when home prices skyrocketed and construction boomed. Before the housing bubble, the county's unemployment fluctuated in the low double digits, consistently higher than the state and national unemployment numbers.
During the Great Recession, the jobless rate shot to a high of 18.9 percent in February 2010. In March of this year, it hit its peak for the year at 17.3 percent.
Statewide, the jobless numbers continue to look better, with the rate dipping to 10.1 percent in October, led by increases in private-sector jobs including construction and retail. California's jobless rate has fallen 1.4 percent since October of last year. It was the state's 16th consecutive month of private job growth.
In Stanislaus County, there was strong year-to-year growth in manufacturing, which gained 1,300 jobs from this time last year. Leisure and hospitality and construction also saw modest growth, adding 400 jobs from a year ago.
Government has remained a drag on jobless numbers, losing 400 jobs in 2012 as it waits to hit its bottom, as private industries have over the past two years.
According to Soydemir's forecast, the public sector should begin to see some improvement next year. His report predicts overall job growth in the valley of 2.25 percent in 2013 and 2.83 percent in 2014.
The CSU, Stanislaus, forecast shows more positive projected job growth than a similar report released last month by the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. The UOP report forecasts job growth of 1.2 percent for Stanislaus County, followed by growth of 2.3 percent in 2013, 1.7 percent in 2014 and 2 percent in 2015. It projects the county unemployment rate won't drop to near its historical benchmark of about 12.7 percent until 2015.
Still, both reports indicate recovery, albeit slow, in the region.
"If you look at the numbers, 2012 is better than 2013. 2013 will be better than 2012. 2014 will be better than 2013. We're going in the right direction," Soydemir said. "I'd like it to be at a faster pace, but it is improving."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her at www.twitter.com/turlocknow.