New percentages for California's unemployed

FRESNO, Calif.

The rates have also improved for every Central California County by at least half a percentage point. Mariposa is the lowest at 11.7 percent followed by Madera, Fresno, Kings, and Tulare counties.

Merced County still has the highest jobless rate in the valley at 17.8 percent.

More than 20,000 people are unemployed in Merced County, but new statistics from the state's employment development department show signs of improvement. The jobless rate dropped from 18.4 percent in January to 17.8 percent in February.

Pedro Vargas, EDD labor market analyst said, "We saw some gains in local government, 400 jobs and we also saw a gain of 100 jobs in professional businesses."

Vargas says many of those gains are the result of educational employees going to work after the winter break. But the end of the holidays also led to a loss of some retail jobs.

"a lot of the small businesses were laying off people because of the season," Vargas said.

Officials with the Central Valley Opportunity Center say that's why they train people for full-time careers in everything from business to cooking. They even offer their own commercial truck driving classes.

Jorge De Nava Jr., CVOC Dir. of Operations said, "We provide employment and training for low income residents in our service area. The best part of it, being a non-profit agency; we do all of this free of charge."

And now the CVOC is preparing to expand with help from a nearly $2 million federal grant. A new facility will be built across the street from the agency's current location in Winton. It will offer advanced welding and solar panel installation training plus more truck driving classes.

Albert Colina, truck driving student said, "It's a good opportunity to learn how to drive free because when you pay it's so expensive."

The CVOC still has to raise about $750,000 to build the facility, and the goal is to finish construction by next summer.

"We're going to be able to help many more people in our community. The best part about it is speaking with local employers; they're always asking us for a skilled work force. So now we're going to be able to be in Winton with a larger operation helping employers in that area," Vargas said.

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