Jobless rate improves as teachers get back to school in Merced

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 21, 2013 

Merced County’s jobless numbers dipped during August, which is also the month when many schools are hiring.

The unemployment rate in the county was 13.3 percent in August, down from a revised 14.5 percent in July, according to numbers just released from the Employment Development Department. August’s rate was also 2.5 percentage points below the rate at this time last year – 15.8 percent.

In August, 2,000 of the 2,400 nonfarm jobs added since the previous month came from government positions. EDD officials chalk that up to schools hiring teachers and support staff.

Merced Union High School District has added new positions for the first time in at least three years, according to Craig Chavez, assistant superintendent of human resources. “It’s not like this every August,” Chavez said.

Some of the new hires are filling vacancies left empty by layoffs during other years or by those who retired, Chavez said, but a number of hires were for positions that did not previously exist.

Chavez said the passage of Proposition 30, last year’s voter-approved ballot measure that increased income taxes on high earners and raised sales taxes, likely had an effect on schools. “How that rolled out to districts is obviously having an impact,” he said.

The Merced Union High School District is one of the two largest districts in the county -- the other is the Merced City Schools District.

The Merced County Office of Education has also been hiring, according to Human Resources Manager Donna Franklin. Hiring staff for special and migrant education, as well as after-school care, are mostly typical of this time of year for her office, she said.

The trade, transportation and utilities sector also added 300 jobs in August, compared to the previous month. Many of those jobs were truck drivers and warehouse workers, said Pedro Vargas, a labor market consultant for the EDD.

August also had 300 more construction jobs this year than it had in 2012. “It’s definitely a sign that construction has picked up,” Vargas said, pointing to work on Highway 99.

August’s unemployment rates are down from the previous month in all of Merced County’s six cities: 13.2 percent for Merced, 13.6 percent for Atwater, 18.2 percent for Dos Palos, 7.6 percent for Gustine, 15.4 percent for Livingston and 14 percent for Los Banos.

The EDD report estimated California’s jobless rate at 8.8 percent. That’s higher than the nationwide rate of 7.3 percent.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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