Merced blackjacked on unemployment and population growth

Merced County population soars
45,000 residents added in past decade; Livingston, Los Banos show strong growth…DOANE YAWGER
Merced County's population grew by 21.5 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to just-released U.S. Census Bureau figures. The city of Merced had 78,958 residents last April 1, a 23.6 percent increase since the decade began.
Census figures announced Tuesday show 54.9 percent, or 140,485, of Merced County's 255,793 residents are Hispanic; in 2000 there were 95,466 residents identified as Hispanic, reflecting about 13 percent growth in that ethnic category over 10 years.
Of Merced County's six incorporated cities, Los Banos showed the highest growth rate at 39.1 percent, followed by Livingston at 24.7 percent.
Merced Mayor Bill Spriggs said Merced's 78,958 figure is a little light compared to state Department of Finance estimates that show the city has more than 80,000 people. The 2000 census showed the city had 210,554 people.
Spriggs said the city historically has grown about 3 percent a year, and the census figures are in line with that trend. Merced has been considered a metropolitan statistical area for years, and retail businesses have certain number thresholds when they become "interested in you."
The Merced area, including surrounding unincorporated areas, easily has more than 100,000 people, Spriggs said.
A key element of the 10-year census, required by law since the United States was founded, is the ethnic breakdown. New figures show 81,599 of the county's 2010 population are white.
Data also show 3.4 percent of the county populace, or 8,785, are black; 18,183, or 7.1 percent, are Asian; and 54.9 percent are Hispanic, compared with 41.4 percent at the beginning of the decade.
Nellie Muniz-Smith, director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Merced, said the chamber made a concerted effort to make sure the Hispanic community was counted in last year's census-taking effort.
She said the number of Hispanic-owned small businesses has increased tremendously and the chamber has noticed many area companies are aware of the growing Spanish-speaking population and are creating products useful to them.
By city, Merced registered 23.6 percent growth between 2000 and 2010, going to 78,958 from 63,893 residents; Atwater went to 28,168 last year from 23,113 in 2000, a 21.9 percent growth rate.
Livingston's population went to 13,058 residents in 2010 from 10,473 in 2000, reflecting a 24.7 percent growth rate. Dos Palos registered an 8.1 percent rate of growth in the decade, going to 4,950 at decade's end from 4,581 residents in 2000.
Gustine registered a 17.5 percent growth rate, going to 5,520 in 2010 from 4,698 residents in 2000; Los Banos had the chart-topping 39.1 percent growth rate by going to 35,972 residents last year from a population of 25,869 in 2000.
Merced City Manager John Bramble said state Department of Finance figures show Merced has 80,893 residents, compared to census figures.
"Clearly we've been in a growing mode in the last decade," Bramble said. "This will help with state and federal funds; it means more money for the city and county. It puts more money into the local economy."
Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, declined to comment on census implications until he has had a chance to review the data.
John Pedrozo, chairman of the Merced County Board of Supervisors, said he hasn't had a chance to study the new figures. "The board and staff will be reviewing census data in the coming days to determine what the impacts will be for Merced County. It's too early to comment until I look at everything," Pedrozo said.
Mariposa County registered 6.5 percent growth during the decade. The foothill county went to 18,251 from 17,130 residents in 2000, census figures show.
Census figures on housing confirm what people already knew: Merced and the county are suffering mightily from the foreclosure situation and depressed housing market.
In 2000, Merced County had 68,373 housing units. Ten years later that number jumped to 83,698, of which 75,642 were occupied and 8,056 were vacant.
The city of Merced had 21,532 dwelling units in 2000, with 1,097 of them vacant. In 2010, there were 27,446 homes, of which 24,899 were occupied and 2,547 were vacant.
Statewide, Fresno was one of the most populous areas in California, along with Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco. Fresno grew by 15.7 percent, while the other four experienced only single-digit growth.
The Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce and is required to take a population count every 10 years. Population counts affect a range of government programs in each state, and census efforts affect $400 billion in state and federal funds a year.
As a result of new census figures, California isn't expected to gain or lose seats in Congress.
It cost $4.5 billion to complete the 2000 census; the "new" census costs have risen to $14.7 billion.

Merced Sun-Star
Merced County jobless rate at 21.2%
National numbers, job creation improve, but tough times linger throughout area…MIKE NORTH
Merced County's unemployment rate continues its disturbing upward trend, though the national unemployment crisis has improved.
The county's unemployment rate hit 21.2 percent in January, up from a revised 19.9 percent for December, according to data from the state.
Out of a 106,500-person work force, 22,600 are unemployed and 83,900 are employed in Merced County, the data show.
National numbers, however, are showing significant improvement. Jobs across the country increased by 192,000 in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That number could bring hope that the unemployment crisis has bottomed out, said Merced County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey.
But the outlook has been bleak in the county. Several Merced businesses have closed in the past few years, and there hasn't been a lot of interest from businesses in moving to the area.
"It seems like our unemployment is always higher," Kelsey said.
Despite the negatives, there are some bright spots for jobs, she noted.
The new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Atwater is expected to bring jobs for about 250 to 300 people.
Wal-Mart officials expect the grand opening to come sometime in the next two weeks. A lot of people have expressed interest in those jobs.
As in December, most of the job losses in January came from cuts in agriculture and temporary holiday employment, said Pedro Vargas, Merced County's labor market analyst. About 1,000 seasonal agriculture jobs were lost.
No areas of the economy saw an increase in jobs for the county for the month, Vargas noted.
Though Merced County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, Imperial County remains the highest at 25.1 percent. Marin and Mono counties have the lowest unemployment rates at 8.2 percent.
Stanislaus and Fresno counties, Merced's neighbors to the north and south, have an unemployment rate of 18.2 percent, according to labor force data for January.
Preliminary numbers within Merced County show Hilmar with the lowest unemployment for January at 11.4 percent, and South Dos Palos with the highest unemployment at 47.1 percent.
The unemployment rate in the city of Merced is 21 percent.
The national unemployment rate was 9.8 percent in January.