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Sonoma County's unemployment drops to 10%

Sonoma County's jobless rate dropped slightly in December, with a late surge in retail hiring, state labor analysts said Friday.

Unemployment was 10 percent last month, compared to 10.1 percent in November.

Department stores added about 200 jobs in December, up 6 percent from the prior month. Financial services, hospitality and government also gained employment in December.

Construction and manufacturing lost jobs.

About 25,400 county residents were looking for work in December, down about 3 percent from the same month in 2009. The county has added about 1,200 jobs over the past year, according to the state Employment Development Department.

Most job sectors have gained employment since 2009, but construction, trade and information are behind last year.

Still, the overall trend is hopeful, said Ruth Kavanagh, a state labor market consultant. “Many of these industries are narrowing their year-over-year losses,” she said.

Sonoma County unemployment was 10.3 percent a year ago.

California's jobless rate rose to 12.5 percent in December, up from 12.4 percent for the prior month. U.S. unemployment was 9.4 percent last month, down from 9.8 percent in November.

Don't expect much Sonoma County job growth in the first part of 2011, said Robert Eyler, director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.

The jobless rate usually rises in the first quarter as retailers cut jobs after the holidays. It's also a slow time for hospitality, agriculture and construction.

“I would be shocked if there's significant growth,” Eyler said. The jobless rate won't fall below 10 percent until at least mid-year, he predicted.

While the local economy added jobs over the past year, the outlook remains uncertain. Government jobs could be cut this year as the state wrestles with another huge deficit. And over the next two years, Sonoma County's two largest insurance employers, State Farm and State Compensation Insurance Fund, will move 500 jobs to other parts of the state.

Most of Sonoma County's new jobs will come from hospitality, food production, information technology and high-tech manufacturing, according to Jerry Nickelsburg, senior economist with UCLA's Anderson Forecast.

The county still has low unemployment compared to the rest of California. Only eight counties reported a lower jobless rate last month.

Marin was the state's lowest, at 7.9 percent. Napa reported 10.6 percent. Mendocino's unemployment was 11.6 percent, and Lake reported 19.1 percent in December.

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