published on January 18, 2019 - 12:49 PM
Written by Gabriel Dillard

Never before have there been more people employed in the Central Valley than in 2018, according to the latest data from the Employment Development Department.

The release of preliminary December jobless numbers caps 12 months with an average unemployment rate the lowest it’s been since the state started keeping reliable statistics in 1990. All four Central Valley counties –Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties –saw unemployment rates that were 7.8 to 9.6 percentage points lower than the peak of the Great Recession in 2010.

The December unemployment numbers do not include data related to the partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22. Those statistics wouldn’t be reflected in the state’s unemployment numbers until March, when the January rates are released. The Employment Development Department (EDD) normally reports those figures once a month, but in February they skip a release in order to “benchmark” the prior year’s figures, revising them using actual state unemployment insurance claims and other data.

To give some perspective on the potential impact of the partial government shutdown on unemployment rates, there were 9,900 employees of the federal government in Fresno County in December, 1,300 in Kings County, 300 in Madera County and 1,000 in Tulare County.

Those figures from the EDD – 12,500 federal employees in the Central Valley – don’t account for whether workers are deemed essential or non-essential employees who may be furloughed or working without pay.

Fresno County’s average unemployment rate for 2018 was 7.4 percent. Last year was only the sixth time that Fresno County’s annual jobless rate was a single digit in 28 years, said Steven Gutierrez, an EDD labor market analyst in Fresno.

December’s jobless rate was 7.5 percent, up slightly from November due to seasonal trends in the ag industry. But December also marked the 21st consecutive month of single-digit unemployment dating back to April 2017, noted Gutierrez.

Fresno County’s unemployment rate peaked at 16.7 percent during the Great Recession.

Fresno County’s labor force was 421,100-strong last month – the highest-ever for a December. The September labor force was 428,600 – the county’s highest ever for a single month, according to the state data.

Comparing December 2017 to last month, Fresno County farms hired 400 less people. Nonfarm industries added 9,000 jobs in that period, led by government with 2,300 positions, leisure & hospitality with 1,700 jobs, educational & health services with 1,600 and the construction industry with 1,500 jobs.

Madera County actually had the lowest annual unemployment rate in the Central Valley at 7 percent for 2018. That actually matches the annual unemployment rate the county saw in 2006. It reported a peak of 16.6 percent in 2010.

Kings County’s average unemployment rate for 2018 was 7.8 percent. Its peak was 16.1 percent in 2010.

Tulare County’s average unemployment rate was 9.4 percent last year, compared to 17.2 percent at its 2010 peak.

Gutierrez said hiring should begin picking up in the spring, when Valley farms come back to life. That prompts increased hiring in the manufacturing sector from food processors.

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