By ERIN MAYES
Unemployment numbers in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties went down in February, reflecting a seasonal trend in which more people get jobs as the weather heats up and tourists return.
The most recent report from the state Employment Development Department puts last month's jobless rate at 7.7 percent for Tuolumne County and 9.2 percent for Calaveras County, down from January's rates of 8.4 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively.
But, Tuolumne and Calaveras counties had unemployment rates of 7.5 percent and 7.4 percent in February, 2002, representing a slight rise in the number of out-of-work people over the last year.
"We've seen a pretty significant increase in the number of people who are coming in for services," said Candace Katosic, work force investment board director for Mother Lode Job Training. "The unemployment rate has definitely increased since last year."
There have been questions about whether the war in Iraq will have a trickle-down effect on the local tourism, but it may be too early to tell.
"Tourism is being hurt, but people, I think, are staying away from more urban centers," said Deb Schweizer, a park ranger at Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite's statistics show tourism in 2003 is up significantly. About 16,000 more people visited the park in January than during the same time last year. For February, the visitor rate was up by 6,000.
Visits hit rock bottom immediately following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in part because Yosemite was named as a potential target. But tourism rebounded quickly and numbers are now on a par with what they were two years ago. This may be in part because 53 percent of park visitors are from California, Schweizer said, so there is little reason to worry about tourism dwindling this summer.
"If you'd asked me a couple of months ago, I would have said, International travel numbers are down,' but they're coming back," she said.
Katosic agreed, saying she believes tourism in California may actually increase, with Bay Area residents taking a "hop, skip and a jump up to the Mother Lode," rather than flying out-of-state.
Tuolumne County's unemployment rate is 27th lowest of the 58 counties in California. The state's rate clocks in at 6.9 percent, only slightly lower than the county's ranking.
Job areas with the largest gains in workers in Tuolumne County last month were the farm industry with 12 percent; residual-textile mills with 20 percent; leisure and hospitality with 10.5 percent; and almost 30 percent in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector.
The greatest losses in Tuolumne County jobs were in the information industry with a 9.1 percent loss and food, beverage and tobacco with a 6.3 percent loss.
Calaveras County's greatest employment gains for February were in the farm industry with a jump of 25 percent, the wholesale trade industry with a gain of 8.3 percent and arts, entertainment and recreation at 5 percent.
The county's largest losses in workers were in nondurable goods, down 6.9 percent, food, beverage and tobacco, down 8.3 percent and manufacturing, down 4.8 percent.