Press Democrat: Sonoma County unemployment rate unchanged at 9.3 percent

Santa Rosa Press Democrat
March 23, 2012

Unemployment in Sonoma County stood at 9.3 percent in February, down significantly from a year ago but unchanged from January, the state reported Friday.

The local economy has added 500 jobs over the past year — marking the first time in five months that more people were working in Sonoma County than the preceding year, the state Employment Development Department reported.

“The recovery continues, slowly but surely,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

A year ago, unemployment stood at 10.3 percent in Sonoma County. Local economists characterized the change as progress in a slow recovery, but some had hoped for more dramatic improvement in a county weighed down by lingering effects of the recession.

“Sonoma County is lagging behind where it should be,” said Robert Eyler, director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University. “We didn’t see the growth that we expected.”

The local economy gave mixed signals in February.

There were 23,800 unemployed workers in February, the most since October.

Yet the county economy added 1,700 jobs between January and February — the first monthly job gains since September — as employment grew to 173,200. Job gains were concentrated in professional and business services, 300 jobs; hotels and restaurants, 200 jobs; and agriculture, 200 jobs.

The education sector added 300 jobs as local schools, colleges and universities returned to full swing after winter break, Eyler said. But that number could quickly change for the worse, depending on the outcome of state budget talks.

“Every forecast I see is that there are going to be some people cut, there’s not much to do about that,” Eyler said. “The biggest question is how many people, and when.”

The county is lagging behind because it has not attracted a large number of new, burgeoning technology firms, and the companies already here are mature and don’t hire as often, Eyler said.

“We’re not seeing one sector lead us to a full recovery,” Eyler said.

Sonoma County’s jobless rate compares to a seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate of 10.9 percent and national rate of 8.3 percent. The county’s January unemployment estimate was revised to 9.3 percent.

Unemployment remained high in Lake County, which had a rate of 16.5 percent in February. In Mendocino County unemployment grew to 11.1 percent, while Napa’s rate fell to 8.9 percent. Marin County had the lowest jobless rate in the state, at 6.6 percent.