Valley Employment: Mostly Worse

By: Marijke Rowland, Staff Writer
The Modesto Bee

Stanislaus, Mariposa buck trend; government sector losses blamed on budget

August 22, 2009

July saw ups and small downs in the unemployment rates of several Central Valley and foothills counties.

California's unemployment rate climbed to 11.9 percent in July the highest number in modern record-keeping but most area counties faced significantly higher unemployment rates.

Stanislaus County saw its rate dip slightly from 16.6 percent to 16.3 percent in July, according to the state Employment Development Department.

San Joaquin, Tuolumne and Calaveras counties all saw increases in unemployment of half a percentage point. Merced County held steady at 17.6 percent and Mariposa County fell a percentage point to 9.9 percent.

"We're continuing to feel the effect of this really bad and ongoing economic downturn," said Liz Baker, a labor market analyst for the Employment Development Department in Modesto. "We continue to hope for the best. There are some positives, but they are being overshadowed by the losses."

Stanislaus County saw large losses in farming and government jobs for July. The downturn follows historical trends in those sectors, with early summer harvesting ending and schools closing for the summer.

The government losses, while expected, continue to highlight the state's ongoing budget crisis. Stanislaus County lost 700 government jobs, covering federal, state, county, city and education workers.

Former Riverbank assistant planner Emily Pino was among those who lost jobs. A tight city budget and inabil- ity of the city and its union to reach concessions meant layoffs at the end of July.

Pino said she was prepared for the cut, but it is still surprising to see so many government jobs lost locally and across the state.

"When I was in grad school, that was one of the benefits that was played up as far as government jobs, was they were more secure," said Pino, who worked for Riverbank for three years. "So it was a little bit of a shock, but (the cuts) did lag behind the private sector."

Now Pino is looking for planning work in the public or private sector. What she is finding, like so many in California, is a brutal job market.

"I'm looking for anything now," she said. "But no one is really planning any developments right now."

City and county government jobs were down by 10 percent from this time last year. Baker said it's unclear what kind of rebound those government fields will see in the fall.

"We'll have to wait and see how many of those jobs come back," she said. "In September and October, we will see how many of those jobs are returning with the schools."

More government losses

Paula O'Leary, business service representative with the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, said the government losses are troubling, particularly because there could be more to come.

"(Government) is a concern, and I don't think we've seen the end of cities, counties and entities like that having to shed more," she said. "I think the private sector is the promising star here."

O'Leary said her office has been busy in the past week fielding calls from companies that want to expand, including manufacturing and professional and business services.

"We're seeing a slight increase; it's a little, tiny bit, but it's exciting," she said. "So we're seeing perhaps a glimmer of hope from those areas. Perhaps we're near the end and gearing up for the turnaround."