MERCED — The Merced County unemployment rate bumped up in June, but remains well below — down more than 3 percentage points — where it was during the same month in 2012.
The state Employment Development Department announced Friday that the unemployment rate was 14.1 percent in June, up from 13.6 percent in May. However, the jobless figure was 17.3 percent in June 2012.
"We're better off this year than we were last year, even though we're still high," said Pedro Vargas, a labor market consultant for the EDD.
Merced County's unemployment rate is the fourth highest of the state's 58 counties. Imperial County ranks No. 1 at 23.6 percent.
Vargas said comparing year to year provides a more accurate perspective than only measuring one month to the next.
Merced County is in better shape than last year, and that's encouraging, said Mark Hendrickson, county director of community and economic development.
"We should view that scenario in a positive way, because we have more people working today than we did one year ago," he said.
Hendrickson noted that it is normal to see small fluctuations from month to month.
Since May, the county saw job gains in construction, leisure and hospitality, trade and transportation, professional business and manufacturing; each industry added an estimated 100 jobs.
Farm employment increased in Merced County by 300 jobs.
"It's also encouraging that some of these industries that are very important to our future here in the county are seeing some growth currently," Hendrickson said.
Information, financial and other services saw no change in June.
The greatest decrease in an industry in the county came by way of 600 fewer state government jobs. The county lost 100 health and education jobs.
Vargas speculated that many of the government jobs came from community and state colleges.
"It's seasonal right now," Vargas said. "It's summer and people are laid off — people that don't have contracts.
"Come September, this will pick up again."
In a county with 95,100 people employed in June, and 15,700 unemployed, a few hundred jobs make a difference in the statistics.
Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, said Merced County is relatively small, so just a few hundred jobs can make the percentage needle jump from month to month.
"Most people focus on the year to year, and 3 percent growth year over year is actually pretty solid," Michael said.
A May report from the forecasting center predicts Merced will drop to 12.4 percent unemployment by 2016.
Michael said the size of the county can make predictions difficult. With that in mind, he said that as UC Merced grows, it will create jobs and already has.
"(Employment) actually didn't decline as much in Merced as some of the surrounding areas in large part because you have your really large public institution, sort of rising up and growing right through the heart of the recession," he said.
The public sector can expect to see growth in the next few years, because of the county's growing population, Michael said. Ag-
related jobs continue to perform well, he said, and a resurgence in housing could buck up its industries.
Trucking and warehousing have been good for the region, Michael said. He pointed to the Amazon distribution center in Patterson as one example.
"It wouldn't surprise me to see some growth in the Merced area as well," Michael said.
June's unemployment rates in Merced County's six cities were 14 percent for Merced, 14.4 percent for Atwater, 19.3 percent for Dos Palos, 8.1 percent for Gustine, 16.4 percent for Livingston and 14.9 percent for Los Banos.
The EDD report showed California's jobless rate fell to 8.5 percent, down one-tenth from 8.6 percent in May. That's still higher than the nationwide rate of 7.6 percent in June. The state added 30,200 jobs in June.
More than 17 million Californians held jobs in June, up more than half a million from the same time last year. The number of people without jobs was about 1.6 million, down by 373,000 compared to June 2012.
Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or email@example.com.