Unemployment continued to drop in the county in March, during a time when the area typically experiences its highest rate of joblessness.
Stanislaus County's rate fell slightly to 14.6 percent, from a revised 14.9 percent in February, according to the Employment Development Department. Unemployment dipped in all area counties for March. The declines come before the start of the farming season, which historically has been the kick-starter for lowered jobless rates across the region thanks to the agricultural industry.
"There is healthy growth overall for Stanislaus County payroll," said EDD labor market analyst Nati Martinez. "Year over year, the changes are more positive. When you see it year-over, it demonstrates the area is experiencing growth that is not as much subjected to normal seasonality."
Year to year, most of the industries gained jobs or had only small losses, except for government, which shed another 400 jobs.
The trade, transportation and utilities sector had the most growth, adding 1,100 jobs from this time last March. Most of the jobs were in retail 600 in retail trade and 100 in wholesale trade and the remaining 400 were in transportation warehousing.
The March gains signal six months of positive year-to-year job increases in the sector.
Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific, said transportation warehousing has been a robust industry for the region and should keep building as Amazon is poised to open large distribution centers in Patterson and Tracy.
"The prospects for continued strong growth in that area are really pretty good." he said. "It's done well for two decades of attracting more of this activity. This is a trend that is probably going to continue."
Despite the gains, some 34,500 county residents remain out of work. Competition for jobs, even temporary work, remains high. The Stanislaus County Fair held its first hiring fair Thursday to fill 500 positions. More than 2,000 people attended to have a shot at the paid and unpaid work for the course of the 10-day event.
"We did see a lot of new faces," fair spokeswoman Adrenna Alkhas said. "We had college students, teachers who volunteer, all kinds of people interested."
Michael said the unemployment rate could drop below 14 percent in the next couple of months, bringing it to its lowest levels since 2008. But he also cautioned that the normal seasonal downturn was smaller than expected, so the normal seasonal bump in the positive direction also could be smaller.
The overall labor force size, which typically begins to grow once the economy begins to recover, also has not followed suit as the unemployment rate has improved.
"That's something to watch," Michael said. "We may see progress in the unemployment rate stall even as recovery moves into next stage because of that."