Tulare County reports lowest jobless rate in history

Tulare County unemployment rate drops to 6.5%, the lowest since the state began tracking the number in the early 1990s

TULARE COUNTY – Higher demand, higher wages and higher concerns over a possible recession have sent job seekers back into the labor market in droves in Tulare County, which posted its lowest unemployment rate ever in May. 

Earlier this month, the California Economic Development Department (EDD) reported the unemployment rate in Tulare County had dropped to 6.5% in May 2022, the lowest since the state began tracking the number in 1990. Previously, the lowest unemployment rate in Tulare County was 7% in May and September 2006 during a steady economic expansion leading up to the housing market crash in 2008.

Other California counties have recorded similar findings including Kings and San Luis Obispo. The historic low in May is down from a revised 7.4% in April 2022, and below the year-ago estimate of 10.7%, a significant drop for a county which historically averages more than 12% unemployment.

A record 194,000 people were employed in May, breaking a record the county set in May 2017, according to the EDD. The May report states there were 10,600 more jobs than in May 2021 including a surprising 4,500 more farm jobs despite the Valley’s drought. Farmworkers are making $15.25 on average, more than minimum wage, while positions like agriculture inspector are averaging more than $30 per hour, according to the EDD’s most recent wage numbers from 2021. Despite the increase, farmworkers and farm and ranch managers are projected to have the most job openings in the next five years.

The report states the county’s labor force has grown 2.9% year over year and the number of unemployed has been reduced from 21,800 to 13,500 showing a tightening labor market. Outside of agriculture, the largest increases in new jobs came in the following sectors: Transportation, warehousing and logistics; hospitality and dining; and local government, excluding health care and education. 

Accommodation, such as lodging, added 200 jobs between May 2021 and May 2022, a 25% increase year-over-year, as travel restrictions are scaled back and more people are taking extended vacations for the first time in more than two years. According to the EDD, hotel, motel and resort clerks are being paid 43 cents more per hour this year than last. Restaurants hired 1,400 more workers in the last year as people feel more comfortable going out to eat even as COVID cases inch upwards. That represents a 13.2% increase year-over-year. The fastest growing job in Tulare County is restaurant cooks, which is projected to grow by 350 positions in the next five years. 

Despite supply chain disruptions, transportation and warehousing jobs have taken off adding 1,800 in the last year. In that time, Amazon has begun building a second fulfillment center, construction is underway on an ACE Hardware distribution center, and plans are in place to expand UPS’ package sorting hub. More warehouses with more than 1 million square feet of space are in the permitting phase as Visalia Industrial Park has become known for its access to Highway 99 and rail and its positioning halfway between the Bay Area and Southern California. Transportation and storage workers are seeing wages more than $2 per hour higher than last year at an average of $28.20 per hour, or nearly $59,000 per year, making it one of the fastest growing occupations in Tulare County. Supervisors in the sector are now making $101,000. 

Local governments, such as Tulare County, the eight incorporated cities and special districts scattered across the county, collectively added 1,200 jobs between May 2021 and May 2022, a 4% increase. Most of that is driven by sales and property tax increases which have both increased throughout the pandemic. Most cities are reporting record numbers for both as the real estate market continues to escalate and online sales have remained strong. For example, dispatchers are making about $2 more per hour in Tulare County than a year ago, with an average income of about $25.58 per hour.

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