Jobless rate soars to 8.6 percent in Sonoma County

Unemployment in Sonoma County soared to 8.6 percent in January, a level not seen in more than a quarter century.

The countys slowing economy has now shed 7,400 jobs over the past year, or 1 out of every 25 jobs in the county, the state Employment Development Department reported Thursday.

Nearly every sector of the Sonoma County economy contracted. Construction companies, retailers, financial services and employment firms reported the biggest losses.

The unemployment rate hasnt been this high since June 1983, when Sonoma Countys jobless rate was 9.1 percent. Even those who track the local economy closely say theyve been surprised by how rapidly the job market has deteriorated.

I think it is stunning in its descent, said Ben Stone, director of the countys Economic Development Board. The recession keeps broadening and deepening.

Never before on records dating back a quarter-century has unemployment climbed so sharply in one year. The jobless rate, which stood at 5.2 percent at the beginning of 2008, rose to 7.3 percent in December and continued upward in January, hitting 8.6 percent.

We just stumbled on something pretty big, said Devla Singh, an EDD labor analyst.

There were 184,400 jobs in Sonoma County in January, down from 191,800 a year ago. Overall, there were 22,600 unemployed job-seekers unable to find work in January, up from 13,600 a year ago.

The sharp jump in unemployment mirrored increases across the nation.

Unadjusted for seasonal factors, unemployment statewide rose to 10.6 percent in January, up from 6.4 percent a year earlier. Nationally, the jobless rate hit 8.5 percent in January, up from 5.4 percent a year earlier.

Despite the widening job losses, the labor market is still stronger in Sonoma County than most other parts of the state. Only eight of Californias 53 counties had lower unemployment in January. Neighboring Marin County continues to enjoy the states lowest jobless rate, at 6.6 percent.

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