Stanislaus County's unemployment rate inched up a bit from February to March. But a comparison with last year shows the number still, ever so slowly, declining.
Preliminary figures released Friday show the county's jobless rate at 17.4 percent in March. That's up slightly from February's 17 percent, but down from March 2011's 18.1 percent.
Nati Martinez, a labor market analyst for the state Employment Development Department, said the year-over-year numbers show that local government took a big hit, losing 1,200 jobs. But retail, mining, logging and construction are showing strength.
The month-to-month uptick, she said, is "not anything to be really concerned about. This is historical for the unemployment rate in Modesto."
Typically, Martinez said, more jobs will be added in the summer months as farm operations move to harvest. And the bigger picture shows an economic recovery, although not a swift one.
"Short-term volatility (up and down movements from one month to another) will inevitably occur, but when we look at unemployment rates that prevailed the same month in 2009, 2010, 2011, we see that the worst occurred in 2009 and 2010," said Gokce Soydemir, professor of business at California State University, Stanislaus. "Ever since, the unemployment (rates) have been on a slow recovering pattern, albeit fluctuating month to month."
Statewide, the jobless rate increased to 11 percent last month. But employers added 18,200 workers to their payrolls, according to the Employment Development Department.
Officials said tens of thousands of additional Californians were looking for work in March — helping explain why payrolls and the unemployment rate both grew.
In another sign of an improving economy, the EDD posted a dramatic upward revision to the February figures. Officials now say 38,600 Californians found jobs in February, instead of the previously reported 4,000 workers. In Stanislaus County, the adjustment lowered the rate a tenth of a percentage point, from 17.1 percent in preliminary figures to 17.
The numbers indicate California's economy continues to make steady progress, even as there are recent signs that the U.S. recovery is hitting a soft patch.
"These are still not stupendous gains, but definitely we're stringing them together now," said economist Dennis Meyers of the state Department of Finance. He said payrolls have grown eight months in a row.
The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343.