Brenda Christeson knows she is one of the lucky ones.
Earlier this month the 51-year-old Ceres woman found permanent employment after 35 months of searching and working temporary jobs.
"It just takes that one 'yes,' " said Christeson, whom The Bee profiled over Labor Day weekend as part of a series of stories on Central Valley employment. "I am absolutely thrilled; it almost seems surreal after searching so long. There are still a lot of others who are still in my shoes."
Christeson's success comes as the Employment Development Department reports that Stanislaus County unemployment dropped more than a percentage point in August to 16.4 percent -- its lowest point in a year.
The job gains came mainly in the areas of traditional seasonal growth, farming and food manufacturing, said Nannette Potter, Central Valley Regional Manager for the EDD. So economists cautioned against reading too much into the drop from a revised 17.5 percent in July.
Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, said August and September are traditionally the lowest points of the year for the area's unemployment rate.
"It's still enormously high and disappointingly high for this time of year," he said. "It's a full
percentage point over a year ago. I'm not seeing too much in this report to be enthusiastic about."
The surrounding counties of San Joaquin, Merced, Mariposa, Calaveras and Tuolumne all saw dips as well. But the state's unemployment rate remained fairly steady last month, creeping up one-tenth of a percentage point in August to 12.4 percent.
The EDD said Friday that more than 2.26 million people are unemployed in California. The rate is slightly higher than in August 2009, when the rate was 12 percent.
Nationally, the jobless rate sits at 9.6 percent.
Stanislaus County saw gains in farming and manufacturing with slight jumps in government and leisure-hospitality categories from July to August. But the year-to-year comparisons were more grim.
Manufacturing was down 1,100 jobs from this time last year and government lost 700 jobs. Only construction and professional business services crept up slightly, both up 200 jobs in the year.
"It seems like we hit the trough of this recession almost a year ago," Michael said. "We've been skidding along the bottom for quite a while now.
"This is the time when myself and a lot of other economists thought we'd get a little traction, that's what we've been projecting since 2009, that we'd start to see private sector growth (in the) second half of 2010," he said. "Well, we're here, we're waiting for it, and we're pretty concerned."
UOP's Michael said private sector growth hasn't been as strong as expected or hoped. Stagnant sales numbers coupled with a cautious approach to staffing have kept hiring slow.
Even those who do find jobs, like Christeson, often find them at greatly reduced pay.
She starts her new job working for the city of Modesto water department on Sept. 28. But it comes at $6 an hour less than what she makes in her temporary job with the Alliance Worknet Career Resource Center. It's also almost $10 an hour less than she made in her last permanent job 3 years ago.
But for Christeson the stability of a permanent position is what matters.
"People are accepting jobs that, five years ago, they would have said 'I'm not doing that, I'm not working for that wage,' " she said. "Now they're saying, 'Absolutely, it's a job, I'd love to do that.' People are now accepting jobs in areas where they might not have considered accepting work."
That reduced spending power from even those who find work all feeds into the sluggish recovery. Michael said the Business Forecast Center and other economists will likely revise their 2010 outlook and reassess how soon the recovery will truly kick in for the valley.
"This is going to be a slow, long process," he said. "We still have major financial problems for businesses and banks, and individual households that have to be resolved. I'm waiting for someone to invent a term between a real recovery and diving into recession again."
Still Christeson, whose job at the Alliance was to help job seekers with resources and resumes, said those still searching for work can't give up hope in the face of daunting numbers.
"Every single application, every single test, every single interview, even if it doesn't result in you getting that particular job; it is a step toward eventually getting a job," she said.
"It markets you to those companies, it provides an opportunity to network, to be seen and gives you practice and skills in improving."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2284.