Merced County’s unemployment rate increased slightly in October to 12.1 percent from 11.8 percent in September, according to data released on Friday by the Employment Development Department.
The bump in the county’s jobless rate can be attributed to a loss of 200 jobs in the manufacturing of non-durable goods, according to Pedro Vargas, a labor market consultant for the Employment Development Department.
“Whenever agriculture starts to cut back on non-durable products, it has a ripple effect and impacts the manufacturing sector,” Vargas said, noting that it primarily affected packinghouses and canneries.
Though Merced County’s economy is still fragile, Vargas said, the latest figures show signs of hope because 12.1 percent unemployment is the lowest for the county since April 2008.
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“That was the last time the rate was this low, so that’s significant,” Vargas said. “Even though it did tick up (for the month), relatively speaking, it’s lower than the last few years.”
Vargas said another positive sign is the number of jobs being added in some industries, including 800 government jobs, 300 construction jobs and 200 educational and health services jobs.
“Our projection for Merced is there will be growth in health and retail, but some of the retail jobs are seasonal,” Vargas noted.
Mark Hendrickson, Merced County director of community and economic development, pointed out that October’s jobless figures reflect an improvement over last year’s estimate of 14.2 percent.
“We’re in a better position today than we were one year ago,” Hendrickson said. “I think that shows that the job market is improving and the unemployment rate is trending downward.”
Hendrickson said there’s a significant number of new business leads coming to the region, which could signify a rebound in the private sector.
“I think in talking with the private sector clearly there is a feeling of being ready to grow and expand a business,” Hendrickson said. “Hopefully, Merced County and its six cities will be in a position to realize the opportunities as well.”
The unemployment figures released Friday were the first in two months because of the federal government shutdown, according to EDD officials.
“The federal government got caught up as of this month,” Vargas said. “We were tracking the numbers but not releasing them because we didn’t have anyone at the federal government to report them to because of furloughs.”
California’s unemployment was 8.3 percent and 7 percent for the nation during the same period.