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Friday, Jun 21 2013 09:38 AM

Kern's unemployment rate lowest in five years; Calif. sees big improvement, too

By CALIFORNIAN STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

In a sign that the local economy is improving, numbers out Friday show that Kern County's unemployment rate is now the lowest it's been in more than five years.

That's according to Sheila Urdesich from the Labor Market Information Division of California's Employment Development Department. Kern's unemployment rate stood at 10.9 percent this May. In January 2008, the unemployment rate in Kern was 9.8, Urdesich said.

And California saw some good news too: The statewide unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent in May, marketing the first time in nearly five years the jobless number has dipped below 9 percent, the state reported.

The drop in May -- a decrease of 0.4 percentage points from 9 percent in April -- puts California's unemployment rate at the lowest level since November 2008.

Kern's unemployment rate also improved from the revised 12.1 percent in April.

It's also a big improvement from a year ago, when the unemployment rate stood at 13.2 percent.

"We see many of the people that come in seeking jobs getting hired and it's great news that unemployment has gone down because we are definitely working our hardest to keep those numbers coming down," said Danette Scarry, marketing and outreach supervisor at Employers' Training Resource, a Career Services Center partner.

With companies like Caterpillar, IKEA, Family Dollar and Dollar General hiring up to 25 people at a time, Scarry said the employee scouting the department does has significantly helped locals find jobs that suit them. Many companies are conducting interviews at ETR offices and a local goes home with a job.

Although the numbers look stronger locally and statewide, Richard Chapman, president of Kern Economic Development Corp., would like to see the numbers in Kern drop even more in the next couple of months.

"The numbers are impressive but getting them below 10 percent would be even better for Kern because that would mean that more people are actively looking for jobs and getting hired," Chapman said.

Chapman's concern is that employment is stagnant in certain employment industries but has seen an increase of employees in the manufacturing, and mining and logging sectors.

Although more people are looking for jobs, a lot of employers are looking for certain employment qualifications.

"We see a lot of people that don't have certain skills that many companies ask for and that is a challenge we face," Chapman said. "We really want to work with companies to offer training to those that don't have employment but could potentially become employees."

While California's rate continues to remain 1 percentage point above the national average of 7.6 percent, the state's improving labor market has narrowed the gap.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, California and West Virgina reported the largest declines in unemployment among all states. California also has seen the largest drop in unemployment among the states over the past 12 months.

State officials reported a non-farm jobs gain of 10,800 during May for a total gain of more than 767,000 since the economy began to rebound in February 2010.

Roughly 1.6 million Californians remain unemployed, down 364,000 from May of last year.

Locally, from May 2012 to this May, there were 2,700 fewer farming jobs. Chapman is concerned with these numbers but hopes to see an increase in the next couple of months.

"It's concerning to see the numbers in farming decrease because we always want those to be strong so hopefully when the annual crop report comes in we will see a robust farm industry," Chapman said.

-- Californian staff writer Laura Liera and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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