Merced County's unemployment rate skyrocketed in January to 21.7 percent, matching the county's highest rate ever recorded in February 1996.
The grim numbers were released Wednesday by the state's Employment Development Department.
The county's December's unemployment rate was 19.8 percent.
The most dire unemployment rate in recent years -- 20.2 percent -- was back in March 2009. The new numbers make Merced County, with 23,100 unemployed, the fourth-worst county in the state for January.
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Pedro Vargas, the county's labor market analyst for the EDD, said the county lost 3,600 jobs in January. The loss, said Vargas, was from a "higher than expected loss in farm jobs, and also local government cut down on jobs."
The county lost 1,900 farm jobs in January and 1,700 non-farm jobs. Of the nonfarm losses, 600 came from government, 500 of those from local government, according to the EDD. The county's unemployment rate comes from a monthly survey of county employers conducted by the state.
Meanwhile, the state's January unemployment rate -- 12.5 percent -- was higher than the national average of 9.7 percent, even as the state saw the creation of 32,500 new jobs in that month.
While county and state numbers are from January, federal unemployment numbers are a month ahead.
Nationally, the unemployment rate hovered at 9.7 percent in February, which saw only a slight change (-36,000) from January. In all, 14.9 million Americans were officially unemployed in February.
The ranks of the county's unemployed may be higher than the survey indicates, as is true with the national and state unemployment numbers. None include workers discouraged and no longer looking for work or part-time workers, so the real number of people without full-time work may be higher than reported.
For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in February there were 2.5 million Americans categorized as "marginally attached" to the work force, since they had not looked for work in the last four weeks.
In addition to discouraged and marginal workers, 8.8 million people nationwide didn't have full-time employment in February.
If you add these numbers to the 14.9 million officially unemployed, the number of people with little or no work would be 26.2 million or roughly 17 percent of the American work force.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.