An­a­lysts un­fazed by Fresno County’s 2nd un­em­ploy­ment rise over last year

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY TIM SHEE­HAN tshee­[email protected]­

the sec­ond time this year, Fresno County’s un­em­ploy­ment rate was above where it was a year ear­lier – the first time that’s hap­pened in eight years.

In fact, 56 out of Cal­i­for­nia’s 58 coun­ties saw sim­i­lar year­ber over-year in­creases in the job­less rate since March 2018, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures re­leased Fri­day by the state Em­ploy­ment Devel­op­ment Depart­ment.

But be­cause the over­all numFor of peo­ple work­ing grew in March, both from a year ear­lier and since Fe­bru­ary 2019, ex­perts say that’s not enough to sound alarm bells about a po­ten­tial slowdown in eco­nomic growth in the state.

In Fresno County, the un­em­ploy­ment rate was es­ti­mated at 9.4 per­cent in March. That was three-tenths of a per­cent­age point higher than March 2018. Jan­uary’s un­em­ploy­ment rate of 8.9 per­cent was also higher than a year prior. The last time Fresno County saw two months of yearover-year in­creases in the same year was in June and Au­gust of 2011, when the rates were be­tween 15.5 and 16.5 per­cent.

A year-over-year look at un­em­ploy­ment is typ­i­cally con­sid­ered a more re­li­able in­di­ca­tor of long-term eco­nomic trends than month-to-month fig­ures that can ex­pe­ri­ence sub­stan­tial

swings be­cause of the sea­sonal na­ture of some in­dus­tries, such as re­tail, con­struc­tion and agri­cul­ture.

But in Fresno County and across the state, more peo­ple have jobs than a year ago. That re­mains a pos­i­tive sign for the econ­omy of the Val­ley and the state, said em­ploy­ment an­a­lyst Michael Ber­nick, a San Fran­cisco at­tor­ney and Milken In­sti­tute fel­low who served as di­rec­tor of the state em­ploy­ment depart­ment from 1999 to 2004.

“At 9.4 per­cent, Fresno County’s un­em­ploy­ment rate has gone up, but un­til re­cent years the rate was in dou­ble dig­its” above 10 per­cent, Ber­nick told The Bee on Fri­day. “In a wider per­spec­tive, these rates in the Cen­tral Val­ley and in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia coun­ties are still well be­low what we’ve seen for most of the past 30 years.”

Em­ploy­ers statewide added more than 24,000 non­farm pay­roll jobs be­tween Fe­bru­ary and March. Since March 2018, non­farm pay­roll em­ploy­ment was up by 238,500 jobs, ac­cord­ing to EDD es­ti­mates.

“We con­tinue to see pay­roll job gains. That 24,000 is con­sid­er­ably more than what we’ve seen in the last two months,” Ber­nick added. “The pace of job gains hasn’t dropped, but un­em­ploy­ment rates are up, prob­a­bly be­cause more peo­ple are get­ting into the job mar­ket.”

Fresno County’s non­farm pri­vate-sec­tor em­ploy­ers had about 285,000 em­ploy­ees in March, up from 272,000 a year ago. The in­dus­try sec­tor with the high­est rate of new jobs was trans­porta­tion/ware­hous­ing, where the open­ing of new e-com­merce and dis­tri­bu­tion ware­houses by re­tail­ers Ama­zon and Ulta Beauty likely helped drive the ad­di­tion of 2,200 jobs, an in­crease of 19.4 per­cent.

Jobs in pri­vate-sec­tor health and ed­u­ca­tion busi­nesses grew by 13.6 per­cent, or about 5,600 jobs in that in­dus­try in Fresno County.

“My sense is that over­all, the num­bers still show an econ­omy that has his­tor­i­cally low un­em­ploy­ment and high job growth,” Ber­nick said.

Lenny Men­donca, the chief eco­nomic and busi­ness ad­viser to Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som, cheered the ad­di­tional new jobs in the state, but added that more needs to be done to im­prove train­ing and job prospects in the Val­ley, where un­em­ploy­ment rates his­tor­i­cally run sev­eral per­cent­age points higher than the state even in good eco­nomic times.

“Cal­i­for­nia em­ploy­ers added 24,500 non­farm pay­roll jobs in March, sig­nal­ing a con­tin­u­a­tion of the eco­nomic ex­pan­sion that be­gan in March 2010. While Cal­i­for­nia’s un­em­ploy­ment in­creased to 4.3 per­cent, it did so from a near his­toric low of 4.2 per­cent in Fe­bru­ary, … ” Men­donca said in a writ­ten state­ment. “In or­der for our econ­omy to deliver sus­tain­able and in­clu­sive growth across the state, we must con­tinue our ef­forts – across the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors – to bring skills train­ing and qual­ity jobs to all com­mu­ni­ties in Cal­i­for­nia, es­pe­cially those in our heart­land.”

The num­ber of peo­ple re­ceiv­ing reg­u­lar un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance ben­e­fits were also down in March com­pared to both a month ear­lier and a year ago. The EDD re­ported that ben­e­fi­cia­ries in March num­bered 387,767, com­pared to al­most 389,500 in Fe­bru­ary and more than 403,000 in March 2018.

Cal­i­for­ni­ans, how­ever, filed nearly 40,000 new claims for un­em­ploy­ment last month, up by more than 5,000 from Fe­bru­ary. It’s an in­crease of fewer than 150 com­pared to March 2018.

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