Could Fresno County soon see its lowest monthly unemployment rate in more than a generation?
In data released Friday by California’s Employment Development Department, Fresno County had an unadjusted unemployment rate of 6.4% in May. In state records that date back to January 1990, the county’s jobless rate dipped that low only twice before — in October 2018 and September 2006.
If the late-spring/early summer hiring in agriculture and manufacturing that increases Fresno County’s employment rolls holds to form, the county soon will see its lowest monthly jobless rate in more than 29 years. Fresno County added 5,700 ag jobs between April and May, EDD reported.
During a slow but steady recovery from the Great Recession, when unemployment in Fresno County peaked at more than 18% in 2010, the jobless rate has remained under 9% since April 2017.
The current streak of 26 straight months with unemployment under 10% could be an all-time record for the county, said Steven Gutierrez, EDD labor market consultant in Fresno.
U.S. Unemployment Steady at 3.6%
The county’s 6.4% mark in September 2006 occurred in the middle of a nationwide economic expansion; the U.S. unemployment rate that month was 4.4%, the lowest in five years. About a year later, the housing bubble burst and the nation’s economy went into a tailspin.
This May’s unemployment rate in Fresno County was a significant improvement from the revised 7.7% reported in April, and a few ticks lower than the 6.8% recorded in May 2018.
Nathan Ahle, president and CEO of the Fresno County Chamber of Commerce, hailed the employment numbers. “This is further evidence that we have all the key components of a great team — a strong economic development team identifying opportunities for growth, workforce development and educational partners providing training and connecting employers to the people they need, an improving business-friendly environment in local government, and, above all, private entrepreneurs willing to make investments in Fresno County.”
Statewide, the May jobless rate was 4.2%, compared to 4.3% in April and 4.2% a year earlier. The U.S. unemployment rate held steady at 3.6% in May.
The EDD reported there were 414,900 Fresno County jobs filled in May, an increase of 12,000 from a year before. Employment in the farming industry was unchanged year over year, at 49,200.
The increase in employment was led by the educational and health services sector, which expanded by 7.2% in a year, from 69,400 jobs to 74,400. Gutierrez said growth in health services was strong even through the recession. That’s because of the region’s growing population. As it ages, it needs more medical and health-related services and products.
Big Distribution Centers Have Trickle-Down Effect
Other business sectors saw strong annual gains. Jobs in the construction industry increased by 4.8%, from 18,600 to 19,500. And the trade, transportation, and utilities sector grew by 5.3% to 69,800 jobs, spurred by opportunities at the massive Amazon and Ulta Beauty centers, along with an expansion of the Gap distribution operation in Fresno.
“When you have those type of things going into the local economy, it has a trickle-down effect,” Gutierrez said.
As for other central San Joaquin Valley counties, Tulare County tallied an 8.1% unadjusted unemployment rate, compared to 9.9% in April and 8.5% in May 2018. Madera County has a 6.3% rate, compared to 7.6% a month earlier and 6.5% year-over-year. And Merced County’s May rate was 7.3%, compared to 8.9% in April and 7.7% a year earlier.